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  The Straits Times 2 Feb 06
Seizures of illegal wildlife at new low
by Radha Basu

THERE was the occasional discovery of exotic whale ice cream, cobra wine and contraband coral - but last year the seizure of illegal plants and animals here fell to a new low.

Falls were recorded across various categories of illegal products. For example, 7,500 pieces of snake and lizard skin were seized last year, a significant dip from the 40,000 seized in 2004.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) attributes the fall to higher fines and more checks for such products.

In a high-profile case in September last year, a smuggler was fined $56,000 for bringing in 14 species of corals and giant clams from Indonesia. This was the heaviest penalty meted out here for a single case.

And with a new wildlife law increasing penalties dramatically, the numbers may fall even further in future, says the AVA. Under the new law passed last month, a smuggler can be fined up to $50,000 for every individual animal or plant smuggled. However, overall fines cannot exceed $500,000 in a single case. Previously, a smuggler would be fined up to $5,000 for every type of animal or species smuggled.

By increasing penalties, the new law plugs a significant loophole. Earlier, fines were based on the number of animal varieties a smuggler brought in. So he could smuggle in, say, thousands of pieces of python skin and still get away with a small fine because the loot involved only one type of animal or species.

The law also bans trading in seriously endangered species like elephants, tigers and rhinoceroses. Some species that are not in immediate danger of extinction, like crocodiles, pythons and some tortoises, can be traded with special permits issued by AVA. These permits are used by zoo officials, for instance.

The new law and higher penalties were a necessary step, said the head of AVA's wildlife regulatory branch, Ms Lye Fong Keng.

The smuggling of wildlife is very lucrative, said Ms Lye, and so people are tempted to try their luck. For instance, in 2002, the AVA intercepted a consignment containing six tonnes of ivory, with a black-market value of US$10 million (S$16 million).

More frequent checks by the AVA - including joint exercises with customs, airport, police and coast guard authorities - could also have proved a deterrent, said Ms Lye.

Thanks largely to these stringent checks, last year the AVA also had a fair share of spectacular hauls. It caught a driver with 563kg of reticulated python skin stashed among electronic parts in a truck from across the Causeway. Four men were caught by Changi customs trying to smuggle in 11 bottles of Vietnamese wine, each of which contained a pickled cobra. And a Japanese restaurant in Upper Thomson Road was found selling ice cream with chunks of whale meat.

The AVA confiscated 145 live animals - including 119 tortoises - last year, compared to 161 animals in 2004.

A Singapore-based animal rights group told The Straits Times that the stiffer penalties could frighten off would-be smugglers.

'It is very difficult to catch illegal consignments as they are usually packed by professionals who have been doing this for a long time,' said Mr Louis Ng, president of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, a wildlife non-governmental organisation. 'Hopefully, higher fines will prove to be a more effective deterrent.'

In Hong Kong and China, the penalties are even more severe. In Hong Kong, a smuggler can be fined a maximum of HK$5 million (S$1.05 million) for trading in highly endangered species.

In mainland China, the death penalty may be meted out for poaching and smuggling of giant pandas, which are also highly endangered.

Stiffer fines mean fewer attempts UNDER the new law passed last month, a smuggler can be fined up to $50,000 for every individual animal or plant smuggled. Previously, he would be fined up to $5,000 for each type of animal or species.

All things wild and unlawful

These were some of the exotic products seized by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority in its fight against the illegal wildlife trade here last year


Most wine connoisseurs may not have heard of this brew, but customs authorities last year apprehended four men who flew in from Vietnam with 11 bottles of exotic cobra wine. The brew, believed to be an aphrodisiac, is made by fermenting rice wine with dead cobras. Each bottle contains the coiled body of a snake. The biggest haul - eight bottles - was made in November.


On June 8 last year, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) at Changi Airfreight Centre informed the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) that it had detained a consignment of marine fish and assorted corals, imported by a local company. Fourteen species of corals and giant clams - close to 300 individual pieces - were found without the required import permits. The corals were wrapped in clear plastic bags lined with strips of newspaper. In September, the importer pleaded guilty to 14 charges of importing endangered species without permits from the AVA. He was fined $4,000 on each of the 14 charges, totalling $56,000.


On July 27 last year, the AVA seized 1,500 pieces of python skin, weighing 563kg, at the Woodlands Checkpoint. They were hidden among electronic parts in a truck driven across the Causeway by a Malaysian. Python skin is used to make fashion accessories such as handbags, belts and shoes. The driver was fined $5,000 and jailed for two months. In total last year, 7,500 pieces of snake and lizard skin were seized in separate hauls - a significant drop from the 40,000 seized in 2004.


This ice-cream tub may look innocuous, but it contains chunks of whale meat. In a small but significant find, six tubs of the product were recovered from a Japanese restaurant in Upper Thomson Road last August. The restaurant was fined $500. The trade of whale and whale products is strictly prohibited. This was the first time in five years such a product had been seized, AVA records showed.

AVA gets more teeth against illegal wildlife trade
by Lim Wei Chean The Straits Times 18 Jan 06
Going straight for the jugular Wednesday
Loh Chee Kong Today Online 18 Jan 06

Illegal wildlife trade second only to drugs
by Khushwant Singh The Straits Times 3 Jan 06

Trader fined $56,000 for smuggling clams, corals
The Straits Times 26 Sep 05

Record fine for smuggling sea gems
The New Paper 27 Sep 05

Seized: 500kg of python skins Haul from a lorry on Causeway which was carrying audio speaker parts
By K.C. Vijayan The Straits Times, 30 Jul 05

Customs officers foil attempt to smuggle python skins into Singapore By Joanne Leow Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jul 05

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