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SINGAPORE: Those caught importing or exporting endangered wildlife parts illegally will face harsher penalties under a proposed law, with maximum fines raised from $50,000 per species to $100,000 per specimen, and the maximum jail term doubling from two years to four years.
The proposed changes to the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act will also strengthen the enforcement powers of the National Parks Board (NParks), protect the identity of informers in court and make clearer what is allowed or not under the Act.
The proposed amendments highlight Singapore’s resolve in the fight against the illegal trade in species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), said NParks in a virtual media presentation on Friday (Nov 12). Singapore is a signatory to Cites, under which international trade in elephant ivory has been banned since 1990.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, wildlife trafficking is the world’s fourth-largest illegal trade, after drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting.
South-east Asia is a hotbed for this trade, with Singapore serving as a major transit hub for illegal wildlife parts.
The harsher penalties apply to those who trade wildlife listed under Appendix I of Cites – species threatened with extinction – as well as repeat offenders who trade Appendix II species, whose trade is controlled in order to ensure their survival, and Appendix III species, which are protected in at least one country.
This is to better ensure that penalties issued are proportionate to the offence so as to further deter such illegal trade internationally and domestically, said the board.
NParks also proposed to peg the maximum fine to the market value of Cites species, to fine offenders on a per-specimen basis rather than a per-species basis, and to align the lower penalties for the illegal domestic trade with those for illegal international trade through Singapore.
The board also called for stronger enforcement powers that allow it to seize and forfeit items used to conceal or convey Cites specimens, for example, timber planks used to conceal elephant ivory tusks, under the Act.
Meanwhile, ensuring the anonymity of informers will help to encourage more individuals to come forward and provide information on illegal wildlife trade, which will facilitate NParks’ investigations, said the board.
It also proposed to clarify the Endangered Species Act to provide greater clarity to traders on the regulation of animal hybrids and animal excretion, among others. For instance, animal hybrids of endangered species will be classed as full species in order to include them in the Act.
Conversely, faeces, urine and vomit – such as whale vomit or ambergris, which is used to make perfume – are excluded from the Act.
NParks will also clarify the documents needed for Cites species in transit or trans-shipping through Singapore, and align the Act more closely with Cites resolutions, which provide recommendations to ensure that international trade in wildlife does not threaten their survival.
NParks said it hopes to table the Bill in Parliament in March next year.
Speaking at Friday’s media briefing, Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How said: “Illegal wildlife trade is highly profitable and smugglers are constantly on the lookout for loopholes to exploit.
“We therefore need to take active steps to ensure that our regulations and enforcement tools remain up to date and effective.”
Mr Tan also launched a month-long public consultation for the proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act.
From Nov 12 to Dec 12, the public can share their views here, or e-mail NParks.
The Ministry of National Development and NParks will review the feedback received before finalising the proposed amendments to the Act, said Mr Tan.
Mr Louis Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC and founder of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), told The Straits Times: “I am heartened by the changes after championing wildlife conservation for over a decade.
“But we have a long way to go, compared with other Asean countries which have harsher penalties for illegal wildlife trading.”
Other changes Mr Ng is pushing for include providing a reward to informers, recognising illegal wildlife trade as an organised crime akin to human trafficking under the law, as well as making buying illegal wildlife an offence.
NParks will hold a public webinar on Singapore’s efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade on Nov 27. It is also holding a roving exhibition from Nov 12 to 17 at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Visitor Centre Gallery, before moving to various green spaces across Singapore over a month.