To strengthen Singapore's fight against the illegal wildlife trade, the Ministry of National Development has introduced harsher penalties against traffickers of endangered species.
Yesterday, a Bill was passed in Parliament to double the maximum jail terms and raise the fine limit.
Under the amendments, smugglers can be jailed for up to two years, up from the previous one year. The maximum fines for illegal trafficking of endangered species will be increased from $5,000 to $50,000.
The fine applies to each animal or plant protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) seized, and is capped at $500,000. Previously, offenders were fined according to species, and not the number seized.
Singapore is a member of Cites, which regulates wildlife trade. According to the International Police, the smuggling of wildlife generates profits of US$5 billion ($8.2 billion) annually, second only to narcotics.
On the need to cap the fine, MP Amy Khor (Hong Kah GRC) asked: "If these illegal traffickers continue to commit such crimes despite the hefty penalties, why should the law help limit the financial risks they face upon prosecution?"
Nominated MP Geh Min said: "The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) does not have enough manpower ... Higher penalties must be matched by greater enforcement."
Conceding the AVA's constraints, Minister of State for National Development Heng Chee How said that its structure and headcount would be reviewed. Nonetheless, he stressed that the task goes beyond the AVA and requires concerted efforts from non-governmental organisations and international partners.
Mr Louis Ng, president of the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (Acres), a local animal welfare group, welcomed the harsher punishments.
According to Mr Ng, Singapore is one of the hubs for illegal wildlife trade and in certain cases, the shipments are worth as much as drugs. Last year, a survey by the society found that one in five pet shops was selling endangered animals. Said Mr Ng: "The Government should clamp down on this the way it does the smuggling of drugs."
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One can only hope it is a sufficient deterrent. As the parliament discussion noted above, interpol reports that the value of the illegal trade in wildlife has overtaken arms to be second only to the trade in illegal drugs!