Still a growing problem: Animal Criminals

Zoo sees big rise in 'donations' after crackdowns on smugglers of banned, endangered wildlife
Desmond Ng, The New Paper 2 Jun 09;

THE illegal wildlife trade in Singapore seems to be thriving despite the heavy penalties.

Wildlife Reserves Parks (WRS) - which includes Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari and Singapore Zoo - said it received 342 animals from the police, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the public.

This is a 40 per cent increase over the 240 donations the previous year.

Among the animals sent to WRS are a pangolin, the slow loris and bearded dragon lizards.

In March, five ferrets were picked up by the police and subsequently donated to the Singapore Zoo.

Ferrets are legally kept as pets in countries like the US and Japan. But they have been banned as pets in most other countries, including Singapore.

That does not seem to have stopped some people from rearing these animals here.

Mr Biswajit Guha, assistant director of zoology at the Singapore Zoo, said the ferrets were in good condition when they arrived. They have since been absorbed into the animal presentations department.

These weasel-like creatures will make their appearance at Rainforest Kidzworld later this year.

Said Mr Guha: 'The ferrets will also be introduced to the public during contact sessions, where presenters will help create awareness of the species and share information with our guests about the illegal pet trade.'

Some of the donated animals are either absorbed into the collection or repatriated to their country of origin, said WRS.

Local animals such as squirrels may be released back to nature parks.

Top smuggling hub

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has listed Singapore, Malaysia and the US among the world's top 10 wildlife smuggling hubs, according to a Straits Times report last month.

In the first five months of this year, there have been 19 wildlife-related enforcement cases, compared with 29 for the whole of last year, said AVA.

There were 54 such cases in 2007.

AVA alone has confiscated about 2,800 animals since year 2006.

The smuggling of protected wildlife carries a fine of $50,000 per Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) species and/or a jail term of up to two years.

Keeping wild animals without a licence is punishable under the Wild Animals and Birds Act and offenders face a fine of up to $1,000 per animal.

Mr Guha cautioned that not all wild animals can be domesticated.

Wild animals are conditioned to learn behavioural patterns from their parents, peers and their surroundings to ensure their survival in the wild, he added.

This makes it virtually impossible for them to adapt to traditional household living. (See report on facing page.)

Many illegal pets are endangered or protected species captured from the wild, and this black market trade hastens their extinction.

'Not only is it detrimental for wild animals to be kept in households, but their owners may also suffer injuries. Behavioural patterns of animals change once they reach sexual maturity, and scratching and biting of humans may occur,' said Mr Guha.

He added that there have been many cases where owners were injured, sometimes seriously, by their 'pets'.


The other danger in raising such wild animals is the diseases that these animals might carry.

Said Mr Guha: 'Wild animals exposed to diseases in their natural habitat and brought into a domestic environment can introduce different diseases and parasites to the people they come into contact with.'

Mr Louis Ng, executive director of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), confirmed that the black market for such wildlife is growing.

Aside from some shops here selling such animals, Mr Ng said the illegal wildlife trade had also gone online. Acres now gets tip-offs on websites selling exotic wildlife almost weekly.

These tip-offs are forwarded to AVA to investigate.

Mr Ng said he doesn't see the value in owning such wildlife.

'Maybe it's like a status symbol or maybe it's the thrill of keeping ahead of the law. But it's not like having a dog where you can bring it for walks.

'Our biggest concern is that people are abandoning these animals in our ecosystem and that it will harm our ecosystem and the other indigenous animals in it.'

Excuse me, there's a croc in the HDB flat
The New Paper 2 Jun 09;

SOME 48 wild or endangered animals, including snakes, exotic lizards and tarantulas, were seized by Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in March.

The raids took place in three locations across the island.

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

In February, a Singaporean who tried to smuggle live birds through the Woodlands Checkpoint in his car was exposed by squawks coming from the glove compartment.

Customs officers found a plastic bag containing a zebra dove and two long-tailed parakeets.

The birds were confiscated and the case referred to AVA.

The highly endangered parakeets are worth about $250 each while prices for the zebra dove start from $150 and can go up to $50,000.

The AVA also seized three illegally kept crocodiles between 2006 and 2007, including two from HDB flats.

One was caiman and the other, a saltwater crocodile.

The third was a 1.5m-long saltwater crocodile kept in a fish farm.

The offenders were fined between $500 and $1,500 last August.