Illegal wildlife trade in Singapore active despite heavy penalties

Lynda Hong, Channel NewsAsia 5 Apr 09;

SINGAPORE: Despite heavy penalties for smuggling wild or exotic animals into Singapore, animal welfare groups say illegal wildlife trade here is still active.

Exotic spiders and reptiles were some of the 48 wild animals confiscated by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) during its recent raid in March.

The animals are now housed at the Singapore Zoo's Wildlife Healthcare and Research Centre.

Some of these animals were smuggled into Singapore from as far as Madagascar.

AVA said the animals could transmit diseases to human beings and other domestic animals. Further more, people who keep them as pets may not know how to take care of them.

Deputy director of risk communication at AVA, Wong Hon Mun, said: "If the wild animals escaped, this will cause the public to go into a panic... The other thing is that if these animals are abandoned for whatever reason, if they get into the nature reserves, they will damage the eco-system because they will threaten our native local species."

Many of the wild animals are smuggled in under poor conditions, and as many as half of them do not survive the long journey.

Singapore is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international agreement to ensure that international trade of wildlife species does not threaten their survival.

As trading of highly endangered species like the ploughshare tortoise is prohibited under CITES, those caught smuggling it into Singapore could be fined up to S$50,000 and jailed for up to two years. Those caught keeping it could be fined up to S$1,000.

But animal welfare groups say illegal wildlife trade is lucrative enough for many to take the risk.

Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) says the number of wild animals seized in raids over the past few years have been constant.

Executive director at ACRES, Louis Ng, said: "I think this year in particular, there's been quite a number of seizures (of wild animals). Earlier last month, there was a seizure of 2,000 birds on the way from Batam to Singapore. So I think... trade is quite active."

- CNA/yt