Illegal Wildlife and Endangered Animals Found in Apartment in Singapore; Man Fined $41,000

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

More than 30 wild or endangered animals, including an ornate horned frog, a yellow-footed tortoise, a slow loris, and a black-tailed prairie dog, were rescued from a flat in Singapore in the biggest seizure of illegal wildlife from a home in 11 years.

Ong Ming Siang, 33, received one of the highest fines ever meted out for such an offence--a total of $41,000--after pleading guilty on Thursday to contravening the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act and the Wild Animals and Birds Act.

Acting on an anonymous tip, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) conducted an inspection and seized 32 wild animals from the flat on 3 June 2013.

The investigations showed that the animals were not indigenous and had been imported into Singapore without the required permits.

Out of the 32 animals, 19 were classified as endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and would require additional CITES import permits from AVA on top of the import permit.

A permit is required for the import and export/re-export of animals to and from Singapore. And because Singapore is a signatory to the CITES, it is an offence to be in possession or to trade in any illegally imported or acquired CITES species. Under the law, if found guilty, the offender shall be liable, on conviction, to a maximum fine of $50,000 per specimen (not to exceed an aggregate of $500,000) and/or jail term of up to 2 years.

Wild animals are not suitable pets, as some may transmit zoonotic diseases to humans and can be a public safety risk if mishandled or if they escape into dense urban environments.

Wild animals that are non-native may also be a threat to the country's bio-diversity if released.

Investigation revealed that some of the animals kept by Ong were given to him, while others were bought by him. The AVA said a permit was required for any import, export or re-export animal.

AVA's prosecuting officer, Yap Teck Chuan, said there was no evidence linking Ong to any wildlife smuggling syndicate but he asked for a heavy fine as there was evidence to show that the animals were for sale.

AVA reminds the public not to import or keep wild animals as pets as demand for such animals can fuel illegal wildlife trade.

Last month, Singapore sentenced two Vietnamese men to 16 months each for smuggling African elephant ivory into the city. The ivory was found in two bags through the airport screening system.

Another Vietnamese man was sentenced last month to 15 months in jail for smuggling rhinoceros horns through Singapore.

While AVA continues to ensure that regulatory measures against illegal wildlife activities are in place and properly enforced,, the public can play its part too.

Should members of the public have information on illegal wildlife activities, they are asked to contact AVA to make a report immediately. All information shared with AVA will be kept strictly confidential.

Sources: Asia One, Today Online, The Straits Times