SINGAPORE - Sweeping changes to a wildlife protection law were passed in Parliament on Wednesday (March 25), with the amendments to the Wild Animals and Birds Act conferring greater protection on Singapore's native flora and fauna.
Renamed the Wildlife Act, the law will now empower the National Parks Board's (NParks) director-general of wildlife management to issue directions to developers to carry out wildlife-related measures to safeguard wildlife, public health or safety, or the health of the ecosystem.
This will help ensure that preventive strategies - such as the installation of hoarding along the perimeter of a development to prevent animals from ending up as roadkill - can be taken, instead of the authorities being able to act only after an animal is found dead.
The feeding and release of wildlife will also be made illegal islandwide, when previously it was only banned in parks and nature reserves.
The feeding of wildlife is considered detrimental to both humans and animals, as the act could desensitise animals to human presence. This could lead to more interactions between human and animal and cause conflict, as was the case for previous instances involving wild boars and long-tailed macaques, for example.
The release of non-native animals into Singapore's habitats could also cause problems for the animals and the ecosystem.
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who had proposed the changes, told Parliament: "I cannot count the number of pig-nosed turtles that have turned up dead on our shores. Many think these are marine turtles who live in the sea, but they are actually freshwater turtles. They go through a very painful death when released into the sea."
Under the amended law, there will also be harsher penalties.
Those who kill, trap, take or keep wildlife without approval currently face a fine of up to $1,000. But under the amended law, anyone who does so could be fined up to $50,000, jailed for up to two years, or both, if the animal is a protected species.
The changes are the first substantial amendment to the Wild Animals and Birds Act since 1965, said Mr Ng, who had initiated the private member's Bill with Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) after more than two years of work by the Wild Animals Legislation Review Committee, which sought feedback on the proposed changes from the public.
The committee, chaired by Mr Ng, is made up of representatives from various groups. They include nature and animal welfare communities, religious leaders, pest management companies, academics and lawyers.
Private member's Bills, which are introduced by MPs who are not ministers, are rare. They include the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act, which began as a private member's Bill proposed by Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) in 2013, and the Maintenance of Parents Bill, tabled by then Nominated MP Walter Woon in 1994.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling said her ministry stands in support of the amendments, adding that they complemented the ministry's plans for the next round of greening Singapore and conserving its biodiversity.
'Sensible approach' in implementation
Of the seven MPs who spoke on the issue, six said they supported the Bill, pointing to the need to safeguard Singapore's rich biodiversity, which range from seahorses to sea sponges, and the great slaty woodpecker - a species previously thought extinct.
Nominated MP Walter Theseira, however, said that while he supported the intent of the Bill, the scope of the law had to be clarified.
Among other things, he expressed concern that there was "no element of proportionality" to the regulation that gives NParks the power to issue directions to developers to carry out wildlife-related measures to safeguard wildlife, public health or safety, or the health of the ecosystem.
Said Associate Professor Theseira: "There is no requirement that the director-general consider the actual costs of remediation, the likely gains to the ecosystem and wildlife, and the relative social and ecological value of the wildlife. Should we really put in the same effort to protect common pigeons as we do pangolins?"
In response, Ms Sun said the Government will take a "sensible approach" to this.
She said: "The director-general will not unilaterally jeopardise development projects by imposing costly pigeon protection measures, for instance. Some more realistic examples of common wildlife-related conditions include requiring developers to install hoarding or limit works to daytime hours in certain areas to minimise impact to nocturnal wildlife."
Mr de Souza also wanted to know if the Act would prevent the extermination of pests.
Mr Ng clarified that it would not, saying that the intent of the law is not to criminalise the killing and trapping of pests and non-threatened invertebrates, as such activities do not undermine the overall aim of wildlife protection.
In his round-up speech in Parliament, Mr Ng paid tribute to the late wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, who died last October from a heart attack.
"The last time I met Subaraj was at the final face-to-face public consultation for the Wild Animals and Birds Act," he said, adding that the veteran wildlife expert had helped in the drafting of the proposed amendment.
Mr Ng added: "Rest in peace, Subaraj. Thank you for all that you have done for Singapore and rest assured that your work and magic will continue. This Wild Animals and Birds (Amendment) Bill is dedicated to you."