Happy returns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 12:00am

Whenever a furry animal story makes the headlines, sentiment tends to take over from reality. Now that Chinese medicine hawker Chan Yat-biu is set to get his pet monkey Kam Ying back, an unfortunate and unnecessary episode has had a happy ending.

For Mr Chan, his thousands of sympathisers, and the authorities who had to deal with the case, that must come as a relief. With his companion to cheer him, Mr Chan's life is again complete. Compassion has triumphed over bureaucracy - always a cause for celebration. Even the most ardent animal rights activist must pity the distress caused to a 90-year-old who obviously felt genuine affection for the animal and who was plainly bewildered to find his work practices were unlawful. But perceptions about animals have changed markedly since Mr Chan started out as a hawker.

The law recognises that animals also need protection from a heartless trade in which they are snatched from the wild, shipped round the world in appalling conditions and subjected to thoughtless or wilful cruelty to serve the pecuniary purposes of the human race. Mr Chan's love for his pet is not in doubt. But its prime role in his life was financial.

Critics tend to overlook the fact that Kam Ying was confiscated by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department because of a complaint from a member of the public. Officials possibly felt as ill at ease upsetting a frail, harmless old fellow as did those who sprang to his defence.

Now an exception has been made in deference to Mr Chan's advanced years and fragile health, and if the case has highlighted laws which protect wild creatures from exploitation that is further cause for satisfaction.

As for the monkey, touching pictures of her in 'captivity' show an older monkey with a protective paw around her - probably the first of her kind the macaque has seen since being taken from the wild. Animal trading is why so many species are dying out and why laws exist to conserve those that remain.