Singapore wildlife faces poaching threat

Number of cases appears small, but experts say widespread problem is often under-reported
Audrey Tan Straits Times 15 Apr 17;

Wildlife is thriving as Singapore becomes greener. But some animals, including birds, wild boars and fish, face the threat of poaching.

Songbirds are among those most at risk - as collectors are willing to pay a pretty penny for a bird that can carry a tune.

On websites such as Locanto or Facebook groups that sell birds, people are buying and selling magpie robins - black and white birds that call in melodious trills - for between $250 and $888, a check by The Straits Times (ST) showed.

In response to ST queries, the authorities said they have received reports of magpie robins, spotted doves and red-whiskered bulbuls being caught from the wild.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it investigated 24 cases of alleged poaching over the past five years - from 2012 to last year. Of these, six cases were resolved with fines. For the rest, warnings and advisories were issued.

Over the same period, the National Parks Board (NParks) said it looked into 17 cases of alleged bird poaching within parks and nature reserves. Fines were paid in eight cases, and in the other cases, people were given warnings and advisories.

The numbers appear small, but observers say they do not accurately reflect the widespread nature of the problem. Poaching is often under-reported, as it is difficult to catch poachers in the act, said Mr Alan Owyong of the Nature Society (Singapore) bird group.

"The authorities will act only if they witness the poaching itself, or from photographic or video evidence," said Mr Owyong.

Trainer and freelance photographer Steven Tor, 55, agreed. Last month, he saw three men who appeared to be trying to catch a bird near Seletar Aerospace Park.

"They seemed to be trying to lure a wild magpie robin into a cage, which contained another magpie robin that kept calling out," said Mr Tor. He called the AVA twice that day, but no one turned up.

In response to queries from ST, an AVA spokesman said it is following up and investigating the alleged bird-poaching activities in Seletar.

Poachers also trap birds by laying spike-studded wires on the ground to ensnare them, said Mr Louis Ng, chief executive of wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society. He has seen people poaching birds in the Lim Chu Kang area.

Another poaching hot spot is the vegetated area next to the old railway track in Tanglin Halt, said Ms Lucy Davis, a former resident of the area who has come across two poaching incidents there.

Ms Davis, an artist and founder of The Migrant Ecologies Project that studies culture and nature in South-east Asia, spent three years studying the interactions between humans and birds in the area.

"Most of the time, the poachers appear to be 'uncles' who grew up catching birds in their kampung days. To them, it seems to be a form of male bonding," she said.

Under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, it is illegal to kill, take or keep any wild animal or bird without a licence, said AVA. Those found guilty can be fined up to $1,000 per animal, and have the animal confiscated.

The mere possession of bird traps or trapping devices is an offence within NParks-managed areas, said NParks' group director for conservation Wong Tuan Wah.

Mr Ng, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC, added: "To effectively reduce the number of poaching incidents, the authorities should ban the sale of trapping devices in pet stores."

MAXIMUM FINES FOR POACHING

$5,000 If the animal is poached from a public park.

$50,000 If the animal is poached from nature reserves or national parks.

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