Caged for Conservation: NUS graduate spends five hours in cage
By Florence Tang
Apr. 3 2011
For five hours on March 28, stares from students and passers-by greeted Tan Yi Han as he sat in an iron cage outside lecture theatre 25 at the National University of Singapore Science Hub. The act was part of a fundraising bazaar by Project Orange, a conservation-themed Youth Expedition Project (YEP).
The YEP is an initiative by the National Youth Council to provide young people with opportunities to make a difference beyond Singapore’s shores.
NUS graduate Tan, 26, is the project co-founder and director. The main intention of placing a human in a prominently-located cage was to highlight the plight of animals in captivity, he said.
“When we put humans in a cage, we consider it a very harsh punishment, but we subject animals to such a situation without batting an eyelid. Think battery farms, labs (laboratories) and zoos,” Tan said.
The idea was first proposed by Gu Tong, a member of the Project Orange publicity team. Gu gave the example of Pingo, an orang-utan kept as an illegal pet, to illustrate the demerits of keeping wild animals in cages. Locked in a small cage, Pingo was found by animal activists severely sunburned and malnourished.
“The cage was a means to attract attention, so we could share with people how animals should not be caged for extended periods of time,” she said.
The team borrowed a cage from the Animal Concerns, Research and Education Society, a charity organization which seeks to improve the living conditions and welfare of captive animals.
They also set up a challenge on causes.com. If $250 was raised, Tan would sit in the cage for five hours.
The team intends to donate the proceeds to the Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.
“The TWRC receives wildlife confiscated from smugglers, mostly for the pet trade. These animals belong to the wild, and what Tasikoki strives for, is to find them a suitable home and a life of dignity,” Tan said.
In May, the 18-strong project team will be travelling to North Sulawesi to work with the rescue centre.
“In the end, I got $120, which was pretty decent nonetheless (enough to take care of 2 orang-utans in Tasikoki for a year). So I went ahead with the challenge!” Tan said.
First-year food sciences student Ivy Lam said she was startled to see a man sitting in the cage.
“I was really shocked. I don’t really know what they are doing, but it was just scary seeing him sitting there for so long,” she said.
While Tan agreed that the message may not have been portrayed clearly enough, he found there were good opportunities for the team to share their conservation message.
“On my Facebook page, my friend wrote, ‘What’s the point?’ I was really heartened though, that one guy was game enough to join me in the cage for pictures. Then, together with his friend, we had a great chat about whether we should keep pet rabbits,” Tan said.
This is the first year Project Orange is being organized. According to co-founders Tan Yi Han and Edward Tan, also 26 and an NUS graduate, the project was birthed from a desire to reconcile environmental and social issues in the form of a YEP.
Tan Yi Han said he has been concerned about the environment since he was young, while Edward Tan is a “budding environmentalist.”
“We’ve both seen the abject failure of conventional environmental messages to change people’s habits and attitudes. So we wanted to test out the transformative power of a YEP to change these mindsets,” Tan Yi Han said.
Most students who realized the purpose of the “caging” said the idea was an innovative one.
“You don’t usually see humans sitting in cages,” first-year arts and social sciences student Tiffany Febrin said.
“I think it’s a very different way of raising money and raising awareness at the same time,” she said.