That illegal animals make good house pets is irrelevant

I was disappointed when I read Mr Lee Chiu San's letter (Missed chance to be centre for legal trade in exotic animals; Dec 6).

Being unaware of the status of wildlife in the pet trade and of the laws and policies protecting these species is among the greatest obstacles to conservation.

The Indian star tortoise is protected in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species has assessed this species as vulnerable, with wild populations considered to be in decline largely due to illegal trade.

While this species can be bred in captivity, a high demand for wild-sourced specimens clearly continues as evidenced by the frequent and often large seizures.

Last year, more than 6,000 wild-caught Indian star tortoises were seized. Most often, these seizures were made in India, which is the main source of this species, and occasionally in destination or transit countries.

Once these illegally sourced tortoises are in the international market, it becomes difficult for enforcement agencies to detect them as they are often falsely declared as being captive-bred.

Local legislation and enforcement efforts in transit and consumer countries are often weak, which further enables the illegal trade in these species to persist.

Legalising the trade in confiscated animals is not without risks. Unscrupulous wildlife traders may benefit from having otherwise hard-to-acquire animals seized by the authorities and then made legal.

Singapore is a leader in South-east Asia in the fight against illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade, and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) should be commended for seizing these tortoises from traffickers.

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society should also be highly commended for its commitment in caring for these animals and repatriating them to give them a chance to be part of their native ecosystem.

Whether or not these tortoises are suitable for owners living in limited housing space is irrelevant - they were illegally sourced.

Purchasing them undermines conservation efforts and the efforts of AVA to effectively enforce the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Chris R. Shepherd (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2018, with the headline 'That illegal animals make good house pets is irrelevant'. Print Edition | Subscribe