Over 60% of bird shops islandwide fail one or more basic welfare conditions: Acres
In one especially appalling example of cramming birds in cages, an undercover investigation found 49 finches in a single cage at a shop.
Local wildlife rescue group Acres has made specific recommendations to the Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) after it surveyed 31 bird shops islandwide, with nearly two-thirds failing one or more of the most basic welfare conditions for birds.
The terms are set out in the Pet Shop Licence Conditions guidelines set by the National Parks Board (NParks). AVS is under NParks.
More than a quarter of them did not provide clean drinking water, and an even higher number displayed sick or injured birds.
Almost half the shops did not give adequate space for birds to move freely and comfortably, with cages not large enough for them to stretch their wings and tails completely.
Also, more than 40 per cent of the birds in the shops lived in overcrowded cages.
Under such dirty and overcrowded conditions, birds are more prone to falling ill and developing a poor appetite.
These effects lead to other problems like feather plucking, loss of feathers, stress and fights.
Although the findings mark an improvement in welfare conditions for birds from those in another undercover operation in 2016, where three-quarters of 36 shops flouted at least one of these minimum conditions, Acres co-chief executive Anbarasi Boopal said there is a lot of room for improvement.
Some of the 31 shops inspected were also in the 2016 report, but some had closed and new outlets have opened.
The key to improving the situation further is to have more precise definitions of welfare, said Ms Anbarasi, 38, who oversaw the Acres undercover investigation, done from October 2020 to February 2021.
"We would like to focus on the recommendations for the review of the bird licensing conditions for shops and code of animal welfare for bird keepers," she said.
Acres had a meeting with AVS in January to discuss the investigation report, and suggested that guidelines should be revised to specify exactly how much space a bird needs in a cage in a pet store.
A cage is currently considered overcrowded when all the birds inside cannot spread their wings simultaneously.
Acres proposes that minimum cage dimensions should be specified based on size and wingspan of the different groups of commonly sold birds and comparative analysis of what other countries have in place.
Birds with complex needs, like parrots, should have toys for mental enrichment.
"It is high time we improve the welfare standards of these birds and end seeing overcrowded cages as a norm at bird shops," said Ms Anbarasi.
Dr Chua Tze Hoong, AVS group director of industry and biosecurity whose division regulates pet shops, said: "To safeguard animal health and welfare, AVS will continue to review standards for the pet industry... We will be consulting relevant stakeholders soon on the review."
Local chain Pets Lovers Centre, which achieved the highest standard of animal welfare in all its shops stocking birds, according to yearly checks by AVS, welcomes the new Acres suggestions.
Its birds are kept in clean and uncrowded cages with toys for enrichment. In some stores, separate play pens with toys have been installed for the birds.
Mr Parawan Dutch Boie Marces, a pet care consultant with Pet Lovers Centre, said shops have a duty to show new owners how best to keep animals safe and healthy.
"It's important for pet shops to adhere to these welfare standards because we are the customer's first touch point with owning their pet," he said.
"Therefore, pet shops have the responsibility of showing customers how to responsibly take good care of their pets."