SINGAPORE - Two Vietnamese nationals were each jailed for six months on Thursday (Dec 29) for illegally importing 12 birds from Ho Chi Minh City.
The estimated retail price in Singapore for each bird is about $1,800.
Businessman To Quoc Viet, who turns 38 on Friday, and his half-brother, Thai Anh Quoc, 48, who is jobless, were given four months' jail - which run concurrently - for animal cruelty.
The pair pleaded guilty to importing 12 Chinese Hwamei (Garrulax canorus) into Singapore at Changi Airport, Terminal 1, on Dec 9. Chinese Hwamei is a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
They also admitted to transporting the birds in two luggage bags in a cramped manner, without providing water or food, for about 12 hours. This caused the birds to be subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering.
One of the birds was found dead on arrival while another had to be euthanised after being tested positive for avian influenza H3N8.
The court heard that the birds were found in small plastic holders - six inside each luggage bag - when the luggage bags were screened by the X-ray machine at the airport. The duo had answered no when asked if they had anything to declare.
Investigations showed that while in Vietnam on Dec 7, To Quoc Viet's brother "Huy", a pet shop owner, instructed him to prepare to go to Singapore as a potential buyer wanted him to convey birds to Singapore. To Quoc Viet was promised a reward of $200 for the delivery.
The next evening, Huy sent someone to deliver the flight tickets and two luggage bags with 12 live birds in 12 plastic rectangular boxes to the two men.
On Dec 9 at about 5am, To Quoc Viet and Thai Anh Quoc left for the airport at Ho Chi Minh City. They took a Jetstar flight which arrived at Changi Airport.
Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority prosecutor Yap Teck Chuan said there were holes on both ends of the plastic boxes for ventilation, and the boxes were secured with brown tape.
"The birds were housed in a cramped manner and there was hardly any space for movements," he said.
There was also no water. The 11 live birds were handed over to Jurong Bird Park, one of which was later found to have been exposed to the H3N8 virus before its arrival.
Mr Yap said stuffing the 12 birds in small rectangular boxes placed inside luggage bags, which were checked into the airplane luggage holding compartment, was far worse than cases of birds imported by land, in which the birds were hidden in car boots or other parts of the car.
The birds had also been confined for more than 10 hours.
Each of the two men could have been fined up to $50,000 and/or jailed for up to two years for importing each scheduled species without a permit. The maximum penalty for animal cruelty is a $10,000 fine and 12 months' jail.