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  Today Online 14 Nov 05
Whistle on wildlife

ONE in five pet shops here is guilty of trading in endangered wildlife.

And the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) is concerned enough about the rise in the illegal trade that it is launching an "all-out attack".

Starting last month and until January, the society is blitzing schools, shopping malls, trains and the radio airwaves with an intensive awareness campaign.

Since the Acres Wildlife Rescue Team was set up last year, more than 140 animals, including monkeys, snakes and scorpions, have been confiscated. In June and July, undercover operations found 111 endangered animals being traded in pet shops.

The campaign aims to tell consumers which animals are prohibited as pets. Said Acres executive director Louis Ng: "We are urging Singaporeans not to buy exotic animals as pets and to also blow the whistle on anyone who buys or trades in these prohibited animals."

Anyone with information can call the 24-hour Acres Wildlife Crime Hotline at 9783 7782.

From the ACRES website

In 2005, Acres launched its third undercover investigations into the illegal wildlife trade in Singapore. The investigations focused on the illegal pet trade.

An alarmingly high number of illegal animals were found being traded openly. In total, 111 animals were recorded, mostly of species which face a high risk of extinction in the wild according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Most wild animals are prohibited as pets in Singapore. The list of prohibited species includes primates, amphibians, reptiles (except the red-eared slider), many species of birds and some types of fish. It is illegal to import, export, or introduce these species without a permit. The sale or even display of these animals is an offence under Singapore law.

From June until July 2005, Acres surveyed a total of 100 pet shops throughout Singapore, of which 20 per cent were found with illegal animals on sale. A total of five species of non-native animals were found traded, in contravention of local laws and international agreement. The Chinese softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis), the Chinese stripe-necked turtle (Ocadia sinensis), the pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta), the Australian snake-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis) and an unidentified species of turtle were found on sale in pet shops.

Pet shops in possession of the above species contravene the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, the Wild Animals and Bird Act and the Birds and Animals Act. The Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act is our national legislation that gives effect to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to control import and export of endangered species in Singapore.

The Chinese stripe-necked turtle is a species not before encountered by Acres in the illegal trade. This species is listed as endangered on the IUCN redlist and face a very high risk of extinction in the wild but was, however, found openly on sale in Singapore. The Chinese softshell turtle and the pig-nosed turtle similarly face a high risk of extinction in the wild.

On 27 June 2005, officers from the Acres Wildlife Rescue Team and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) raided three pet shops found selling illegal animals. A total of forty seven animals were confiscated.

Globally, the illegal trading in wildlife, timber and other natural resources is now surpassed only by the trafficking in drugs and weapons. The ongoing illegal pet trade has severe consequences for the survival of every species involved. More than half of the smuggled animals die, and the surviving animals mostly end up living in bad conditions or are mistreated.

Acres is calling for stricter enforcement in Singapore as well as the amendment of the Endangered Species Act, to eradicate the loopholes and increase the penalties. It is clear that the current penalties do not act as a deterrent against the trafficking of protected species. Acres believes that the main loophole in this Act is that it is based on a per species basis. As such, all a trafficker has to do is traffic only one species at a time and the penalties would be minimal. Acres proposes the amendment of this Act to a per animal basis and for wildlife parts, a per kilogram basis.

The amendment of the law will send a strong message that the Government takes a serious view on the illegal trade.

More on the ACRES website
Related articles on Singapore: wildlife trade
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