Missed chance to be centre for legal trade in exotic animals

Last month, it was reported that 51 Indian star tortoises were repatriated from Singapore at $1,000 per tortoise (51 rare tortoises smuggled into S'pore on the way back to India; Nov 27).

This was an extravagant waste of funds and a missed opportunity for Singapore to expand its role as an international centre for the fast-growing legal trade in exotic animals.

Reputable animal-care publications worldwide state that the highly desired star tortoise is very suitable as a pet.

While some are poached from the wild, many are available, legally, from accredited breeders, at four-figure prices.

Instead of releasing the 51 tortoises and risk them being poached again, the authorities should have retained them here as breeding stock by an official organisation.

Unfortunately, animal rights groups often wrongly conflate illegal with endangered.

They have generated prominent coverage on the confiscation of chameleons, leopard geckos and sugar gliders smuggled into Singapore.

Even though these animals may have entered our country illegally, they are by no means endangered, being easily bred in farms throughout the region.

The Singapore authorities should open an import-export channel through which exotic pets can be officially certified as farm-bred and healthy.

Being small, quiet and easy to care for, such animals are suitable for Housing Board residents, who can, through them, become interested in protecting wildlife and nature.

The Government should not adopt the narrow parameters used by emotional animal rights activists to define what animals are suitable as pets.

Lee Chiu San

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2018, with the headline 'Missed chance to be centre for legal trade in exotic animals'. Print Edition | Subscribe