Agrotech sector can gain from legal trade in wild animals

Dr Chris R. Shepherd dismissed my proposal for the Government to initiate a breeding programme for star tortoises and lauded the repatriating of 51 tortoises to be released in India (That illegal animals make good house pets is irrelevant; Dec 11).

A breeding programme will help our local agrotechnology sector capture a bigger share of the exotic animal trade, currently worth more than US$300 billion (S$413 billion) annually. We have government-linked bodies with the expertise to do this.

But animal rights activists often oppose the keeping of all exotic pets. They ignore the fact that the support they receive from supposedly sympathetic foreign pet-related organisations conceals vested interests.

Temperate country dealers had a huge head start in breeding high-value exotic pets. However, they have a high cost base, and must pay for temperature-controlled accommodation and expensive imported food in winter.

Knowledge of their breeding techniques is now widespread. Tropical farms can achieve the same output at far lower cost. This competition is not welcome.

Many wild animals can be legally commercialised under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). Under Cites regulations, domestic-bred offspring from the second generation onwards can be traded if they meet certain conditions.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) made Singapore the international centre of the dragon fish trade by properly documenting the specimens that were already here before Cites came into force, and breeding from this stock.

We can do this with star tortoises, which are long-lived.

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) had these specimens for eight years. They were once legally available. Some might have arrived before Singapore signed the Cites. Undocumented does not necessarily mean illegal.

To address Dr Shepherd's fear that illegal animals can infiltrate the legal trade, might I remind him that Singapore is known for being corruption-free. Official breeding documents issued by Singapore are generally accepted by the import authorities in advanced countries, which reject documents from certain sources.

Before jumping on the bandwagon with animal rights activists, the authorities must remember that what they propose may not be aligned with our national interests.

Lee Chiu San

Correction: An earlier version of this letter stated that Dr Chris R. Shepherd was the regional director for Traffic in Southeast Asia. He is not. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2018, with the headline 'Agrotech sector can gain from legal trade in wild animals'. Print Edition | Subscribe