Ban on feeding of wild animals and birds in the works

SIAU MING EN Today Online 6 May 18;

The release of wildlife could also be regulated, but the committee studying this will first have to determine the scope of the Act given that several fishes and marine wildlife are excluded from the current definition of animals.

This was one of the issues raised at the first public consultation held at the Singapore Sustainability Academy on Friday (May 4), which was attended by more than 80 members of the public.

Mr Ng, who is MP for Nee Soon GRC, will be tabling a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament to propose changes to the Act. He also chairs the 17-member Wild Animal Legislation Review Committee set up to look into this. The committee includes members from the Nature Photographic Society (Singapore), the National University of Singapore’s law faculty, and the Singapore Pest Management Association.

“We really need to align (the Act) with all other animal legislations that we currently have, the rest have been reviewed and amended… (this Act) really is quite outdated,” said Mr Ng, who is also the founder of wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

Amendments to another animal legislation, the Animals and Birds Act, were passed in 2014, for instance, and was also introduced as a private member’s bill. Under the current Wild Animals and Birds Act, it is an offence for any person to kill, take or keep any wild animal or bird.

Among the 10 tentative proposed amendments are suggestions to ban the feeding of wild animals throughout Singapore. Currently, such feeding is only banned in the nature reserves and parks under the Parks and Trees Act.

Others include regulating the release of all wild animals, with exceptions made for government agencies and organisations such as Acres whenever they see the need to release these animals back into the wild.

Beyond the act of killing, taking and keeping these wild animals and birds, one of the suggestions was to criminalise the harassment of such wildlife. They are also proposing a Code of Conduct to spell out what constitutes as harassment.

The use of nets, traps and similar equipment should be regulated too, said the committee.

They are also calling for provisions for “citizen empowerment against offenders”, which is similar to how the National Environment Agency’s community volunteers are given enforcement powers to issue warnings and summonses.

Other suggestions include raising the penalties under the Act, and introducing tiered penalties for first and repeated offenders, for instance. Currently, the penalty is set at maximum fine of S$1,000, and the forfeiture of the wild animal or bird.

At last week’s session, several participants asked if species such as bees, crabs, fish, and other marine wildlife would be covered under the Act. One participant pointed out that many marine wildlife are invertebrates, and they “completely fall through” the Act while another said the definition would not cover the fish and crabs often released for religious reasons.

The Act states that wild animals and birds include all species of animals and birds of a wild nature, but excludes domestic dogs and cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, domestic pigs, poultry, and ducks. Under the Interpretation Act – which defines certain terms and expressions used in written law – an animal “includes bird, reptile, fish and every kind of vertebrate animal and the young”.

This means invertebrates such as insects and the endangered horseshoe crabs are excluded. Amending the definition in the Wild Animals and Birds Act would also have implications on other sections in the Act as well, noted Mr Ng.

“The trapping of animals, (for instance), you can’t really stop someone from trapping say, a cockroach,” he said.

But the committee will look into the possibility of including some species of invertebrates – such as the fish and crabs that are often released during Vesak Day – in the relevant section to regulate the release of such wildlife.

Other issues raised during the consultation session included whether the amendments could cover the accidental escape of captive wildlife, which was not intentionally released but could also affect the environment. Another participant pointed out that it should similarly be an offence for individuals or organisations who facilitate the release of wildlife such as through the sale of these animals.

The committee plans to gather more feedback from the public through an online questionnaire that will be posted within one or two weeks. Closed door consultation sessions will also be held with the relevant stakeholders, including those from religious groups. All feedback will be taken into account before the committee drafts the Bill, and puts it up for consultation again.

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