Charlie Moores, Birds Korea, Jan 10th 2014:
In mid-November, a Birds Korea member reported the discovery of a pair of maimed Mandarin Ducks being kept on an artificial pool system in the lobby of a hotel on Jeju (Mandarin Duck: Symbol of Love or of Animal Abuse?).
In Korea (and much of East Asia) Mandarin Ducks hold a special place in peoples’ hearts and the species was designated as a National Natural Monument (KNP 2013). And as Mandarin Ducks symblose love and fidelity, it is perhaps understandable why a hotel on the “honeymoon” island of Jeju might think that displaying such iconic birds in this way would appeal to their guests.
After review of images of the birds, we contacted the hotel to explain our concerns. These included that the birds appeared to be pinioned (a practise to which we are opposed and which is fortunately not yet well-established in Korea); that they were being kept in inappropriate conditions (a shallow pool in a busy, bright, and typically noisy hotel lobby); and that their display was not in line with national conservation objectives and the goal of genuine sustainability.
It is clear, based on our communications, that staff at the Hyatt initially believed that the birds’ were happy and well looked-after. However, after expert advice received from both Liz Tyson, Director of the overseas welfare organisation, Captive Animals Protection Society (CAPS) and ourselves, they agreed to contact the Jeju Wildlife Rescue Centre. Following further communication on January 6th, the hotel then made the very positive and welcome decision on January 7th to have the birds removed from the lobby. On the 8th they were transferred to the rescue centre
This is the most positive outcome for the birds that Birds Korea could have hoped for, and we would like to thank Mr. Julien Gonzalvez, the general manager, for his actions and for the hotel’s willingness to accept expert advice. We would also like to congratulate the Hyatt Group for making welfare concerns a priority.
Birds Korea would also like to express our sincere thanks to CAPS for their help and support. It’s likely that ‘internationalising’ our concerns like this helped the hotel to fully appreciate our sincerity and determination. As in so many other issues an honest explanation and the use of science and effective collaboration with people and organisations of like-mind is often key to the success of a campaign or project. Opportunities for collaboration of this kind are certainly something Birds Korea actively welcomes.
Finally, some might ask if it really matters whether a couple of ducks spend their lives in a hotel lobby or not? There are, after all, huge problems in the region including reclamation, massive habitat loss, and unsustainable trapping of migrants all along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Our answer is that undoubtedly it does indeed matter, for several reasons.
Firstly, the idea that animals are ours to use as we will – in this case as unsuitable ornaments for a hotel lobby – is widespread and growing in many parts of the world. In the ROK, there is a small but apparently increasing number of people wanting to exhibit waterbirds (as at Eco-Geo in Suncheon in 2013). The pinioning and display of birds, previously a rare practice in Korea, is unwelcome and confirms to us that the people responsible either do not have the animals’ best interests at heart or that unwittingly they are too inexpert to care for them. This was therefore in a very real sense a test case. The Hyatt hotel chain is well-known and generally highly respected. There are thousands of other hotels, office buildings and government offices regionally: if even a proportion of those decided to follow the Hyatt model and build pools, import ducks and pinion them (maiming them so they cannot fly) then the impact could be very serious indeed.
Secondly, conservation as a movement needs to decide what it is we are actually trying to achieve. Conserving the Mandarin Duck is extremely important, and we will continue to use science to challenge threats to the species as a whole, but every species is of course made up of individuals. If we as conservationists lose sight of the fact that what we’re actually trying to help, protect, and ensure a future for individuals then in our opinion our efforts are much diminished. In this specific case, these two individual birds needed our help – and we were happy to provide it.