It's raining cats and turtles: Hundreds of pets kept in high-rise buildings escape and fall

It's raining cats and turtles: Hundreds of pets kept in high-rise buildings escape and fall

Every year, about 250 cats fall from high-rise buildings here, and about half of them perish, says the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

And it is not just felines that fall victim to the phenomenon known as high-rise syndrome.

Among other animals that have plummeted from height are snakes, tortoises, turtles and iguanas, said the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

Many of them were illegally imported and kept as pets, which have led to some owners being prosecuted, added Acres.

The SPCA told The New Paper that it sees more than five injured cats from high-rise falls every week.

Its executive director, Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, said: "More than 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in high-rise buildings and more are adopting cats as pets.

"These are just the cases that are reported to us. So we can say with confidence there are many more such cases."

Cats are not allowed to be kept in Housing Board flats, as they are generally difficult to contain in the unit and make caterwauling sounds that can inconvenience neighbours.


Locum SPCA vet Haoting Chow said: "We've had cases of cats that had been sitting on window ledges all their lives but one day fall to their deaths because they were too curious or just accidentally rolled over."

He said injuries from high-rise falls include fractures and bleeding, especially from the nose and mouth.

"A fracture after falling from height is one of the most common injuries of high-rise syndrome. Severe injuries like a spinal fracture could leave a cat paralysed for life," Dr Gill said.

Cat owner Aisyah Hafizah, 19, woke up on Oct 16 to find her year-old flat-face Persian, Latte, bleeding from the nose and mouth.

She said: "I saw blood and panicked. I immediately took him to the vet."


She later found out Latte had fallen from her fourth-storey flat, and a neighbour brought it back to her unit after finding it bleeding downstairs.

She now plans to wire-mesh all her windows.

"If it wasn't for my neighbour, I would have lost Latte forever," she said, adding that it is recovering well after having its canines extracted.

In 2016, SPCA responded to a call about a kitten stranded on the kitchen window ledge of a 12th-storey flat in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3.

SPCA shelter supervisor Lee Yao Huang, 34, who rescued the kitten, told TNP: "The hardest part was not the rescue itself but having to return the kitten to the family and having to trust the same thing would not happen again."

SPCA makes it mandatory for anyone looking to adopt a cat from it to wire-mesh their windows and gates.

Acres deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan told TNP: "Sometimes when illegal pet owners no longer want to care for their pets, they throw them out because surrendering them to the authorities would get them into trouble."

Earlier this year, Acres was alerted to an illegal soft-shell turtle, which is not native to Singapore, at the foot of Block 280 Yishun Street 22. The caller said he saw the turtle fall to the ground and survive, but they could not find its owner.

In 2017, Acres was alerted by a woman who saw a "giant lizard" outside her flat window. It turned out to be an illegally kept iguana and was rescued.

Acres said that rescued illegal animals are often rehabilitated and sent back to their country of origin.

Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, it is an offence to import, possess, display or sell such animals.

Anyone convicted under the Act can be fined up to $50,000 for each species or be jailed for up to two years, or both.

Mr Kalai said: "The illegal wildlife trade in Singapore is still a growing issue, as we see more irresponsible owners importing these animals and keeping them as pets.

"Many owners tend to underestimate their pet turtles and tortoises. Some of these animals are escape artists."


This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.