Legalising wildlife trade will diminish illegal activity

Despite increased awareness and efforts to combat the illegal trade of Indian star tortoises over the years, the tortoises often end up in an endless vicious circle of being rescued, released into the wild and poached again.

The illegal trade persists largely due to international demand and high profitability.

The only effective way to safeguard wild populations in the long run is to satisfy international demand by promoting sufficient legal captive-breeding programmes and to undermine the profits of the illegal trade by increasing smuggling penalties and market availability of legal captive-bred specimens.

The influx of legal specimens into the trade is bound to have an effect on the demand for wild counterparts.

For example, when Singapore started the commercial breeding of the Asian arowana, the demand for wild specimens dropped greatly.

There are valid concerns that legality can be used to mask the illegal trade, but there are some solutions to identify the legal specimens, such as by implanting microchips in them or the breeding of non-natural colour variants.

If the wildlife trade can only be considered illegal, then there will always be incentives for people to be involved in it due to lack of competition from the legal supply as well as high profitability.

The increased black market price for Indian star tortoises over the years has reflected this.

It is time for Singapore to adopt a new approach, rather than to continue with methods that have not worked for decades and are harming wild populations.

The more the wildlife trade is stifled without sustainable options given, the more the illegal trade flourishes.

Ong Junkai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2018, with the headline 'Legalising wildlife trade will diminish illegal activity'. Print Edition | Subscribe