Study raises questions about S’pore’s wild bird trade, urges action

Nearly 86,000 birds traded could not be accounted for; AVA says several reasons possible

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 25 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE — Four years after Singapore was named as a key laundering point for tens of thousands of birds caught in the wild from the Solomon Islands, a new study has highlighted significant discrepancies in trade figures of birds — including endangered and vulnerable species — reported by the Republic and its trading partners.

The study found that between 2005 and 2014, close to 86,000 birds traded could not be accounted for after they arrived in Singapore. Birds that are not re-exported are presumed to have entered the domestic market, but the scale of the discrepancy suggests this is unlikely, it stated.

The discrepancy warrants further investigation as the inability to effectively monitor movement of species such as the African grey parrot (picture) “fundamentally undermines” the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement to ensure trade does not threaten wildlife species with extinction. This leaves potential loopholes for illegal trade, said Mr Colin Poole of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the study’s co-author.

Mr Poole and co-author Chris Shepherd of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC called for Singapore to provide more accurate information by way of actual trade figures and to exercise more caution in ensuring trade numbers are within permitted quotas.

Singapore should also declare stocks of CITES-listed species held by registered breeding and exporting facilities here, and release data on its seizures of illegal wildlife, they said.

From 2005 to 2014, Singapore reported importing 225,561 birds and exporting 136,912 birds to the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Parrots were the most commonly traded species and the African grey parrot, a vulnerable species, was the most intensively traded, with more than twice the number imported into Singapore than any other species. Almost half of the African grey parrots imported during this period were reported to be caught in the wild, from countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is under scrutiny for unsustainable exports.

Singapore was a leading transit hub for birds from Africa and Europe, to East Asia and the Middle East, the study found. For instance, it imported 41,737 African grey parrots, mainly from eight African countries from 2005 to 2014, and exported 31,529 of them to places such as Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates and Japan.

These parrots are among the most popular pet birds due to their gentle nature and ability to mimic human speech, but this has made them a prime target for poachers, said the authors.

Responding to the study, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said Singapore has been meeting its CITES obligations. In recent years, the AVA has submitted the actual number of imported and exported birds, instead of merely the number of permits issued — which may not be eventually used by a trader.

The AVA said several reasons could account for discrepancies in trade numbers: Imported birds may not be re-exported within the same year; local farms that breed birds, including African grey parrots in captivity; countries that are not party to CITES not being obliged to report trade data to CITES.

“For example, when Singapore exports 10 CITES birds to other countries that are non-party to CITES, our export data shows 10, but on the other country’s import data, it may be zero,” said a spokesperson. According to the study, Taiwan is not a party to CITES.

The AVA also said that import permits issued may not have been used and actual imported consignments may have fewer animals. An electronic CITES permit system ensures that Singapore’s re-export quantity does not exceed its imported quantity.

The AVA has rejected foreign permits issued with quantity exceeding the export quotas established for the African grey parrots, and Singapore also reported a number of fraudulent CITES permits received from other CITES parties. It has suspended trade of CITES species with countries recommended by the CITES Secretariat, the spokesperson added.

Other measures that the AVA takes include inspecting all CITES shipments — including those from high-risk countries at ports of entry or exit.

The trafficking of endangered animals is fuelled by demand and poaching, and the public can help by not buying such animals, added the AVA.