Dona Drury Wee: For the love of animals

Dona Drury Wee, president of the Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and organiser for Asia for Animals Coalition Conference 2023 shares more about the upcoming conference in Kuching, and what legacies the association aims to leave behind

Malaysia won the bid against India and Nepal to host the Asia for Animals Coalition Conference (AfACC) 2023 which will be held in October. What was the clincher?
For Sarawak, the clincher was the fact that we had hosted AfA in 2015 up until this time, and many delegates have had fond memories of their time in Kuching.

We too, with the fantastic cooperation from Borneo Convention Centre Kuching chefs, came up with a full vegan meal plan. This was also where we could showcase Sarawak’s wonderful heritage products and vegetables and fruits.

I also believe that the field trips to the Semenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center and Bako National Park, at the end of the conference, were major highlights. In 2015, 90 per cent of the international delegates were first-time visitors to Sarawak.

I don’t see any issue with air connectivity as our gateways are Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Kota Kinabalu. Flight times are under two hours from Kuala Lumpur and just over an hour from Singapore and Kota Kinabalu.

What are some of the main issues on animal welfare that will be highlighted at the upcoming conference?
AfA 2023 will cover a wide range of important topics such as community engagement and behaviour change, emerging and re-emerging diseases, management of animal populations, climate change and health, wildlife diseases, preventing disease spillover, and wildlife trade and risk assessment.

What is the potential legacy impact that this conference will bring?
Our theme for this year is Education and Engagement Bring Change, where we aim to raise awareness and engage communities on the importance of animal welfare. 
We are expecting an audience of 500 delegates with 60 speakers over this four-day conference.

Animals play a vital role in our daily lives, and it is essential to promote their welfare and ensure their rights are protected. We believe that education and engagement are key to bringing about change and progress in animal welfare. We want to do this so that we can get our message across to all spectrums of our society.

Could you elaborate on the CSR activities incorporated into the programme this year?
We are planning some activities such as a neutering campaign in one of our suburban areas (likely to be Serian), as well as initiating and bringing back some activities for pet owners such as the Interfaith Pet Blessing Ceremony and Wiggle Waggle Walk.

The conference will also be a good opportunity to showcase Sarawak’s offerings to international delegates. What is being planned?
As with our previous AfA Conference, we will be showcasing our vegan meal plans. We will be collaborating with the Culinary Heritage and Arts Society Sarawak to also feature ‘live’ stalls for delegates to sample our Sarawak cuisine. They can also opt to join in to help our chefs cook! This will be a feature delegates will not find at any other conference, and is quite special.

Additionally, we have added in ‘therapy’ tea breaks with sessions in painting (batik, watercolour and acrylic), where delegates get to bring home their art pieces at the end of the conference. We will also be including additional post-tours for delegates such as frogging excursions at night, birding tours, and jungle cleansing morning treks. These are in addition to our orangutan and Sarawak Cultural Village tours. We want our delegates to get an opportunity to sample Sarawak’s unique and extraordinary attractions right here in our rainforest.

Having been with SSPCA since the 1980s, what would you say are the association’s major challenges?

Our major challenge is the low awareness level in pet care and management, and this is a continuous engagement and education process we need to deploy throughout. Neutering, animal abuse and abandonment are just some of the issues. The other issue is the challenge of getting sufficient funds to run our centre.

Could you share some of SSPCA’s future plans and projects?

The upcoming SSPCA Animal Village – which we hope will open end-2024 – will have space to provide training and education programs for the general public and in particular our youth, a veterinary clinic and pet recreational activities.

We hope to attract responsible owners to come share and help in spreading good pet care and management. We also hope to have our councils take part in activities such as stray population management. And if budget permits, we can look at microchipping for pet owners. This is not new but will be a great move forward towards a better caring society for animals.