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Tougher penalties for offences against wildlife

Tougher penalties for offences against wildlife

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 26 Mar 2020
Author: Audrey Tan

Amended law aims to better safeguard S'pore's flora and fauna.

The feeding and release of wildlife has been made illegal islandwide with sweeping changes to the Wild Animals And Birds Act passed in Parliament yesterday that confers greater protection on Singapore's native flora and fauna.

The law now also gives powers to the National Parks Board's (NParks) director-general of wildlife management to direct developers to undertake measures to safeguard wildlife, public health or safety, or the health of the ecosystem. It has been renamed the Wildlife Act.

These changes will mean that preventive steps - such as installing hoarding along the perimeter of a development to reduce roadkill - can be taken, instead of only after an animal is found dead.

The feeding and release of wildlife will also be made illegal islandwide, when previously it was banned only in parks and nature reserves. The feeding of wildlife is considered detrimental as this could desensitise animals to human presence. This could lead to more interactions between human and animals and cause conflict, as was the case in previous instances involving wild boars and long-tailed macaques, for example.

The release of non-native animals into Singapore's habitats could also cause problems for the animals and the ecosystem.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who had proposed the changes, said: "I cannot count the number of pig-nosed turtles that have turned up dead on our shores. Many think these are marine turtles who live in the sea, but they are actually freshwater turtles. They go through a very painful death when released into the sea."

Under the amended law, there will also be harsher penalties. Those who kill, trap, take or keep wildlife without approval previously faced a fine of up to $1,000. Now, anyone who does so could be fined up to $50,000, jailed for up to two years, or both, if the animal is a protected species.

Mr Ng had initiated the private member's Bill with Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) after more than two years of work by the Wild Animals Legislation Review Committee, which sought feedback from the public on the proposed changes.

The committee, chaired by Mr Ng, is made up of representatives from various groups. They include the nature and animal welfare communities, religious leaders, pest management companies, academics and lawyers.

Private member's Bills are introduced by MPs who are not ministers.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling said her ministry stands in support of the Bill, adding that it complemented the ministry's plans for the next round of greening Singapore and conserving its biodiversity.

Of the seven MPs who spoke on the issue, six said they supported the Bill, pointing to the need to safeguard Singapore's rich biodiversity, which range from otters to sea sponges, and the great slaty woodpecker - a species previously thought extinct.

Nominated MP Walter Theseira, however, said that while he supported the intent of the Bill, the scope of the law had to be clarified.

Among other things, he expressed concern that there was no proportionality to the regulation that gives NParks the power to issue directions to developers to carry out wildlife-related measures. Said Associate Professor Theseira: "Should we put in the same effort to protect common pigeons as we do pangolins?"

In response, Ms Sun said the Government will take a "sensible approach" to this.

"The director-general will not unilaterally jeopardise development projects by imposing costly pigeon-protection measures, for instance. Some more realistic examples of common wildlife-related conditions include requiring developers to install hoarding or limit works to daytime hours in certain areas to minimise impact to nocturnal wildlife," she said.

In his round-up speech in Parliament, Mr Ng paid tribute to the late wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, who died of a heart attack last October.

Mr Ng added: "Rest in peace, Subaraj. Thank you for all that you have done for Singapore and rest assured that your work and magic will continue. This Wild Animals and Birds (Amendment) Bill is dedicated to you."


Forum: Proposed tweaks to Wildlife Act will help local biodiversity thrive

Mr Lee Chiu San suggested that exemptions be made to the complete ban of all feeding of wildlife to conserve them, allowing people to attract birds and other charismatic wildlife species to gardens through measures like feeding tables (Proposed tweaks to Wildlife Act need further consideration, March 11)

There is no practical way of preventing all species of wildlife joining in feeding activities. Once wildlife is fed, they will become accustomed to being fed, and rely too much on being fed.

If all people stop feeding wildlife, wild animals will relearn that their food is found in natural habitats like forests, mangroves, wild grasslands, seashores and marine habitats, and freshwater streams. It is then that they can be truly wild and free, truly conserved.

Wanting to conserve wild animals on a personal level is commendable, but there are other options for biodiversity appreciation, outreach and education than feeding.

The expansion of the Wildlife Act to cover invertebrates is important for several reasons.

First, invertebrates are just as worthy of conservation as charismatic vertebrates as a matter of principle.

Second, continuing to allow unlimited recreational exploitation of the invertebrate populations is unsustainable, especially if the local populations are also stressed at the same time from development and pollution.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved with wildlife may require exemptions from the Act so that they can fulfil their objective of conserving our biodiversity. Most NGOs have professional expertise and guidance to handle animals in an appropriate manner.

The tweaks to the Wildlife Act give local biodiversity a better fighting chance for survival for future generations of Singaporeans to love and appreciate. I invite Mr Lee to participate in other low-impact biodiversity activities whether in organised groups or as a volunteer.

Sia Sin Wei

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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