AVA nets 48 exotic animals in island-wide raid

Some species 'rarer than tigers'
Teh Jen Lee, The New Paper 1 Apr 09;

THE list reads like one from the Little Shop of Horrors.

A total of 48 wild or endangered animals, including snakes, giant spiders, exotic lizards and other reptiles were seized during raids by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) last Wednesday.

Ms Lye Fong Keng, head of AVA's wildlife regulatory department, told The New Paper yesterday: 'The animals were 31 reptiles, such as snakes, lizards and tortoises, and 17 arachnids, such as spiders.

'These animals are currently being identified at the species level and investigation of the cases is in progress.'

The New Paper understands that four ball pythons were among the animals confiscated from three locations across the island.

All the spiders seized were tarantulas, large venomous spiders that are popular in the exotic pet trade.

Ms Lye said: 'Exotic animals such as primates (monkeys, slow loris), reptiles (snakes, lizards, tortoises), small mammals (sugar gliders, hedgehogs) and invertebrates (scorpions, tarantulas) are not allowed to be kept or sold as pets in Singapore.

'Presently AVA only allows certain types of animals to be sold in pet shops and kept as pets.'

These approved pets include dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice, chinchillas, terrapins, birds, fish, land hermit crabs, green tree frogs and Malayan box turtles.

She said the Wild Animals and Birds Act prohibits the keeping of wild animals without a licence from AVA.

Any person caught keeping wild animals illegally can be fined up to $1,000 per animal. (See report on right.)

The illegal animals would also be confiscated by AVA.

Linked to syndicates

The seized animals are believed to be linked to syndicates of exotic pet traders.

The AVA said the raids took place in three separate locations, which it did not disclose.

The New Paper understands that one of these places is in Ang Mo Kio.

And at least one was a house with a garden, where four Burmese star tortoises were found.

Also confiscated were two ploughshare tortoises, which are extremely rare and listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

Mr Haniman Boniran, a former AVA officer who has been monitoring wildlife trade locally for over five years, said: 'It's very important that the authorities clamp down on such trade.'

He said land tortoises like the ploughshare tortoise, which is from Madagascar in Africa, don't breed very well in captivity, so they are rarer than tigers.

When The New Paper showed him photos of the confiscated chameleons, he said they too, were from Madagascar.

He said: 'They are endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else in the world. Few people have been able to sustain these species in captivity.

'Usually, most of the reptiles don't make it through the long journey because they are cramped up either in socks or tied up into bundles of clothes, hidden in coats, or stuffed in suitcases. These are the most common ways of smuggling reptiles.'

Mr Haniman said there had been a recent spate of confiscations in the region, indicating that government agencies are serious in cracking down.

This latest raid is the biggest in Singapore since 2004, when close to 100 cases of illegal wildlife trade were investigated.

It is crucial to act fast on reliable information to break this clandestine trade, said Mr Haniman, who added that a recalcitrant might be involved because there were two big raids in Ang Mo Kio in 2004.

Mr Haniman understands there have also been raids in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, anyone caught with a Cites-listed species can be taken to court and fined no less than $50,000 per species.

The maximum penalty for smuggling protected wildlife is a $500,000 fine and jail of up to two years.

AVA's Ms Lye said anyone who possesses and tries to sell any endangered species illegally imported into Singapore also faces the same penalties. This includes websites that sell exotic animals.

She said AVA views wildlife smuggling as a serious offence and will act against offenders.

Anyone with information on illegal wildlife trade can contact AVA at 62270670.


JAILED: 37 months


Lawrence Wee Soon Chye, nabbed thrice in Singapore for smuggling animals, was caught in Orlando, Florida, trying to take in 198 fly river turtles, 25 Indian star tortoises and three monitor lizards from Singapore.

The total haul was worth US$155,000 ($236,000).

He was given the maximum jail term of 37 months.

FINED: $1,000


Colorectal surgeon Francis Seow-Choen was caught with three radiated tortoises from Madagascar, which cost $10,000 each.

He was given a $1,000 fine.

FINED: $5,600


Alvin Lok, an honours student from the National University of Singapore, was found with 14snakes.

He was fined $5,600.

FINED: $56,000


Victor Tan Choon Kiat, an aquarium owner, was found to have imported about 300 pieces of corals and giant clams, from 14 different species, from Indonesia, without any permits.

He was given a $56,000 fine, the heaviest meted out here for a single case.