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Expand list of animals allowed as pets

It is time to address the laws on what animals Singaporeans may keep as pets (Exotic, cool... and illegal; June 4).

There needs to be a clearer distinction made between wildlife and pet species.

Many of the "illegal wildlife" are species that have been domesticated or long recognised by the international pet industry.

Just because a species is listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) doesn't mean it is endangered. For instance, the veiled chameleon is listed on Cites, but it is considered a species of "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Hedgehogs, sugar gliders, leopard geckos, bearded dragons and even insects like praying mantises are common household pets in neighbouring countries.

There is no basis to ban them in Singapore. The pet trade needs to evolve to better suit the lifestyles of people today.

In highly urbanised Singapore, reptiles could actually make the best pets. Less time commitment is needed, there are no allergy issues and no noise pollution, and there is less risk of zoonotic disease transmission.

Reptiles such as leopard geckos and bearded dragons have been domesticated for decades. There are commercially available diets and products that support their care and maintenance.

The pet industry in Singapore is currently only a portion of what it could be.

There are areas which could be developed with little risk to local wildlife as long as planning and research are done.

The reason the industry cannot advance is the need to submit proposals with supporting scientific literature for each species being considered to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). This is very time-consuming and does not make business sense for an entrepreneur to do, as it opens the door for competitors.

A better approach is for the AVA to open up a list of legalised species and allow pet industry players to fill their respective niche market.

This will also be less likely to lead to "trend chasing", which often results in animal abandonment.

A blanket ban on all exotic species as pets is not the way to go. There has to be a balance between developing the pet trade and catering to the local conservation and animal welfare concerns.

Perhaps a consultation panel can be set up whereby all parties can have their fair share of input. Only then can progress be made.

Ong Junkai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline 'Expand list of animals allowed as pets'. Print Edition | Subscribe