Illegal pet advertisements rife on online platforms: ACRES

STACEY LIM Today Online 21 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — Illegal pet advertisements are rife on online platforms, a six-month undercover operation conducted by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has found.

Over six months, from June to the middle of this month, ACRES found more than 150 advertisements for exotic animals such as tiger cubs and an axolotl — a type of salamander — on websites such as Gumtree Singapore and Locanto Classifieds.

Among 17 sellers randomly contacted by ACRES, 14 responded. They had bred the animals at home or smuggled them in by air, or via the land checkpoints, revealed ACRES at a media conference today (Dec 21).

Responding to tip-offs from the public, ACRES had also staked out illegal wildlife transactions arising from 156 illegal pet online advertisements. Joint sting operations with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) netted animals such as sugar gliders and an Asian Leopard Cat.

This is the first time ACRES has conducted an operation against such advertisements. ACRES director of advocacy Mr Tan En, 30, said: “When the members of the public see these advertisements, they might think it is legal and acceptable to keep these animals as pets.”

Gumtree had the highest number of illegal pet advertisements on its platform, with 100 such advertisements. This was followed by 33 on Locanto Classifieds, 14 on SPH Online Classifieds, six on Carousell, two on Adpost.com Classifieds, and one on ChaosAds.

ACRES has reached out to Carousell and SPH Online Classifieds to look at how to stop such advertisements from being placed.

When contacted by ACRES, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) immediately removed the illegal pet advertisements from their platform.

Head of SPH’s Corporate Communications Ms Chin Soo Fang said: “Such ads are not allowed and it is unfortunate that some have slipped through our vetting.

“We will step up vigilance and work with ACRES to stop the online illegal wildlife trade.”

Carousell also removed these advertisements, and approached the AVA for help on curbing the placement of these advertisements on their platform. A spokesperson from Carousell said the company removes listings of illegal wildlife on its marketplace systematically through “a content moderation process”.

“Our community members are encouraged to flag products and users who don’t abide by our guidelines, and they are also able to write in to us if a matter requires urgent attention so that our team can take appropriate action.”

ACRES is still trying to engage Locanto and Gumtree on the matter.

In addition to strengthening the content management of online advertising platforms, ACRES proposed the use of wildlife sniffer dogs to detect live animals in vehicles arriving at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints, and at the baggage retrieval areas in Changi Airport terminals.

Smugglers are more likely to exhibit “nervous behaviours” when the dogs are placed at security checks, said Ms Noelle Seet, who heads the ACRES Animal Investigation Unit, at the media conference.

“Otherwise you notice a lot of people do smuggle things in, and they just pass through (these checks). It may not be 100 per cent effective, but it can act as a deterrent,” she added.

The public is also encouraged to inform ACRES and AVA of illegal pet advertisements, whether online, in shops, or by individual.

According to the AVA, about 60 illegal animals were seized in 2013.

Under Chapter 92A of the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, anyone caught posting an advertisement or offering for sale scheduled species that are imported without a permit can be fined S$50,000 for each scheduled species up to S$500,000, or jailed for up to two years, or both.


Surge in online ads for sale of illegal animals as pets in Singapore: ACRES
ACRES discovered that Gumtree had the most illegal animals advertisements posted online. There were a total of 100 such ads on the website, it found.
Olivia Quay Channel NewsAsia 21 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: A six-month investigation by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society’s (ACRES) Animal Crime Investigation Unit showed that there has been a surge in online advertisements for the sale of illegal animals as pets in Singapore.

ACRES kept track of six online advertising platforms from June to December this year, and discovered that Gumtree had the most illegal animals advertisements posted online. There were a total of 100 such advertisements on its website, ACRES said on Monday (Dec 21). The advertisements featured animals including ball pythons, leopard geckos, tiger cubs and tarantulas.

An advertisement for a tiger cub. (Image: ACRES)

To verify the authenticity of these advertisements, ACRES then engaged 17 random sellers. Of those, 14 were proved to be genuine, while the remaining three did not respond, it said.

Through these interactions, it was also found out that the illegal pets were either home-bred locally, or often smuggled into Singapore via the Johor-Singapore causeways, as well as by air. Based on tip-offs, ACRES also staked out these online dealings and performed joint-stings with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

"Most of the animals that we find are reptiles - star tortoises... the iguanas, the pig-nosed turtles," said ACRES' Director for Advocacy Tan En. "We don't have a licence to keep mammals. We work closely with some of our vets. We had a case recently where a monkey was transferred back to Malaysia. But in the meantime, most of the time we work with the zoo as well."

ACRES is attempting to stop the online advertising by working with advertising platform owners to restrict the placement of illegal pet advertisements.

Since its investigation, ACRES has contacted Carousell about strengthening the site's content moderation process. ACRES added that when informed of these illegal pet advertisements, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) removed them from its Classifieds platform. ACRES also said it attempted to contact Locanto, but has not received a reply. It has not gotten in touch with Gumtree with its findings.

To curtail smuggling of live animals, ACRES proposed the use of wildlife sniffer dogs to detect live animals in vehicles or baggage, as they can detect contraband faster and more accurately than the manual checking of luggage and vehicles, even with the use of X-ray machines.

ACRES said animals are smuggled into Singapore within a few days of the purchase order via the Causeway, and it is also likely that the animals are brought in through the airport.

"It's usually in suitcases - they put the animals in bottles, in PVC pipes. And as you can imagine, a lot of them die along the way, because of the lack of water and food," said Mr Tan.

ACRES also encouraged the public to remain vigilant and inform ACRES and AVA of such advertisements - whether online, in shops or by individuals.

- CNA/xk


Surge in illegal pet advertisements online
ACRES finds 156 online ads selling illegal pets in undercover investigation
NATASHA MEAH New Paper 22 Dec 15;

Looking for an exotic pet?

"Healthy Tiger Cubs and Cheetahs Available", read one of the advertisements posted online last week.

The advertisement was taken down after it got the attention of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) Animal Crime Investigation Unit.

It is just one of many online ads selling endangered and exotic animals like pygmy marmoset monkeys, sugar gliders, aldabra tortoise and ball pythons, among others.

To stop the illegal pet trade online, Acres conducted an undercover operation from June to Dec 15.

Acres wanted to investigate the use of online advertising platforms by wildlife traffickers. Such advertisements are illegal.

They found 156 illegal pet advertisements online over the six months.

To verify the authenticity of the advertisers, they contacted 17 sellers, of which 14 proved to be selling endangered species.

Three sellers did not respond.

They also staked out dealings made with illegal pet advertisers. The joint sting operations with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) resulted in the seizure of animals such as sugar gliders and an Asian leopard cat.

On average, the Asian leopard cat is similar in overall size and shape to the domestic cat, but can grow up to 56cm in length, with a 27cm-long tail.

Acres released the results of their investigation yesterday.

One of the undercover volunteer investigators told The New Paper: "As I had no experience in investigative work, I was given a simple assignment. It was straightforward surveillance in a case of alleged animal cruelty."

Sarah, not her real name, declined to disclose any of her recent experiences as it could lead to some sellers realising that she is not a real buyer.

One of her first stings involved a long-tailed macaque. Acres was tipped off about a household that was keeping the animal in their two-storey landed home.

Sarah said: "They had a very huge porch and a large garden but the macaque was kept in a steel cage about 1.5m in height.

"We went down as a team and saw the animal in the cage through gaps in the wall. We then called AVA, who took it away."

The owners claimed the monkey was abandoned.

But Sarah said: "(Macaque) mothers are usually very protective of them so it's unlikely that it would be abandoned.

"It also hurt me to see the macaque pacing back and forth in its cage. Even though it was a reasonable weight and size and appeared to be well-fed, there was no space for it.

"In their natural habitat, they would be in their troupes swinging from tree to tree."

Recalling one experience during the investigation into online ads, Sarah said: "We asked one of the sellers 'Hey what about a slow loris? Is that for sale?' as they are one of the most endangered species.

"At first they said there was no stock but a few days later they contacted us saying their hunters found a group of them in the forest and if we placed an order now they would go get it for us.

"Does this mean that every time we click on an ad and place an order they are going to trap animals in the forest? So who is the one pressing the trigger? Is it the buyer, the middleman who is the seller, or the hunter?"

Where did they come from?

Investigations into the online illegal pet trade in Singapore by the Acres Animal Crime Investigation Unit found that the animals were either bred locally or smuggled into Singapore by air or by road.

Young animals were smuggled in as they were smaller and easier to conceal, and touted to be less dangerous than adult animals.

Common methods include smugglers strapping birds onto their bodies or stuffing the baby animals into suitcases.

Acres made a few recommendations to the AVA to curtail the smuggling of live animals via the land checkpoints and by air, including the use of wildlife sniffer dogs.

Acres uncovers 156 online ads selling illegal pets
An undercover investigation by wildlife rescue group Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) into the online illegal pet trade found 156 advertisements touting exotic animals as pets.
My Paper AsiaOne 22 Dec 15;

The six-month investigation involved monitoring six online platforms - Gumtree, Locanto Classifieds Singapore, ST701, Carousell, Adpost.com and ChaosAds.

A total of 100 advertisements were found on Gumtree, 33 on Locanto Classifieds Singapore and 14 on ST701.

Carousell had six such advertisements while Adpost.com had two and ChaosAds had one.

Acres contacted 17 sellers who had multiple advertisements, of which 14 responded and confirmed they were selling such animals. The remaining three did not respond.

The findings were revealed by Acres yesterday.

The investigation culminated in joint sting operations with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) where animals such as sugar gliders and an Asian leopard cat were seized.

Acres also made a few recommendations to AVA to curtail the smuggling of live animals via the land checkpoints and by air, including the use of wildlife sniffer dogs.

"We strongly urge anyone who comes across the sale of wild animals to immediately contact Acres," said Tan En, director of advocacy at Acres.

In response to the advertisements found on their online platform ST701, Singapore Press Holdings said: "Such ads are not allowed and it is unfortunate that some have slipped through our vetting. We will step up vigilance and work with Acres to stop the online illegal wildlife trade."

Carousell said it has been removing listings of illegal wildlife on its platform and will work with AVA and Acres to prevent wildlife trading via its online platform.


Exotic animals sold illegally as pets
Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Dec 15;

Exotic animals like tiger cubs and monkeys are being sold online as pets, an undercover investigation has found.

A six-month probe into the online illegal pet trade here by wildlife rescue group Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) found 156 listings for the sale of exotic animals as pets.

"You may think it may not be happening in Singapore. But our investigations show... there is a thriving market in Singapore," said Ms Noelle Seet, head of Acres' Animal Crime Investigation Unit, yesterday.

Acres monitored six online platforms between June and Dec 15. The platforms are Gumtree Singapore, Locanto Classifieds Singapore, ST701, Carousell, Adpost.com Classifieds (Singapore) and ChaosAds (Singapore).

A total of 100 ads were found on Gumtree, 33 on Locanto Classifieds Singapore, and 14 on ST701. Carousell had six such ads, Adpost.com had two and ChaosAds had one.

One post listed the sale of pygmy marmoset monkeys, touting them to be tamed and "well socialised with kids and other pets".

Out of 17 sellers contacted by Acres randomly, 14 confirmed that they were selling such animals. The other three did not respond.

In addition, following tip-offs, Acres also held joint sting operations this month and last month with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), where animals such as sugar gliders - small squirrel-like mammals - and an Asian leopard cat were seized.

Investigations found that the animals were often smuggled into Singapore by air or via the Johor-Singapore causeways.

Acres has thus proposed to the AVA to have wildlife sniffer dogs at causeway checkpoints and Changi Airport terminals to curtail the smuggling of live animals. It made a similar proposition in 2011.

Acres is also working with SPH Online Classifieds, which runs ST701, and Carousell to tighten their controls on illegal pet ads. Both ST701 and Carousell have said they will step up vigilance to stop wildlife trading via online platforms.The other four online platforms have yet to comment, said Acres.

Its investigation unit has received 27 reports about online sale listings of exotic animals since it was started in March this year.

It is illegal to keep, trap or kill wild animals here without a licence. Those found guilty under the Wild Animals and Birds Act face a maximum fine of $1,000 per animal.

Those found guilty of smuggling endangered species and their parts and products can be fined up to $50,000 per specimen - up to a total of $500,000 - and/or jailed up to two years under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act.

In October, two Russians were given 15 months' jail for smuggling 206 turtles estimated to be worth $90,000 through Singapore.

Anyone with information on the sale of illegal wildlife as pets can contact Acres on 9783-7782 or acrescrime@gmail.com


5 reports of illegal pets received this year, says AVA
Samantha Boh, Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Dec 15;

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) revealed yesterday that it has received just five reports of illegal pets so far this year.

It came a day after wildlife rescue group Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) told how an undercover six-month probe found 156 listings advertising exotic animals as pets online. They included ball pythons, monkeys and tiger cubs.

The AVA said it has been monitoring the illegal sale of animals online since 2008 and four of the reported cases this year involved such listings.Past reports about illegal pets have also been few with just two made last year, three in 2013 and 10 in 2012. Online ads made up two of the 2013 cases and eight of those in 2012.

The AVA said it works with marketplace websites, such as Carousell, to investigate suspected cases of possession and sales of illegal wildlife.

Ms Noelle Seet, head of Acres' Animal Crime Investigation Unit, did not comment on the AVA figures but said: "Now with greater awareness about the illegal online wildlife trade, we hope that more people will step up to report to AVA and Acres, so the net can be cast wider and tighter around wildlife traffickers."

Acres has received 27 reports about online sale listings of illegal pets since March this year.

AVA figures show the number of cases involving the possession or sale of illegal wildlife has doubled from 10 last year to 20 as of Monday. This comes after a drop from 19 cases in 2013 and 2012.

The number of instances of illegal import, export or transhipment detected at Singapore's borders fell from 13 last year to six as of Monday. Since 2013, the AVA has prosecuted nine individuals involved in the illegal import or transit of parts of wildlife species, including rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory. Offenders were fined up to $10,000 and jailed for up to 16 months.

Acres has proposed tackling the problem by using wildlife sniffer dogs at border checkpoints. The AVA spokesman said the method has been considered but was found to be "less cost- effective" than current methods like routine and random checks.

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