The feeding and release of wildlife has been made illegal islandwide with sweeping changes to the Wild Animals And Birds Act passed in Parliament yesterday that confers greater protection on Singapore's native flora and fauna.
The law now also gives powers to the National Parks Board's (NParks) director-general of wildlife management to direct developers to undertake measures to safeguard wildlife, public health or safety, or the health of the ecosystem. It has been renamed the Wildlife Act.
These changes will mean that preventive steps - such as installing hoarding along the perimeter of a development to reduce roadkill - can be taken, instead of only after an animal is found dead.
The feeding and release of wildlife will also be made illegal islandwide, when previously it was banned only in parks and nature reserves. The feeding of wildlife is considered detrimental as this could desensitise animals to human presence. This could lead to more interactions between human and animals and cause conflict, as was the case in 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, said: "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 previously faced a fine of up to $1,000. Now, 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.
Mr Ng 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 from the public on the proposed changes.
The committee, chaired by Mr Ng, is made up of representatives from various groups. They include the nature and animal welfare communities, religious leaders, pest management companies, academics and lawyers.
Private member's Bills are introduced by MPs who are not ministers.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling said her ministry stands in support of the Bill, adding that it complemented the ministry's plans for the next round of greening Singapore and conserving its biodiversity.
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 otters 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 proportionality to the regulation that gives NParks the power to issue directions to developers to carry out wildlife-related measures. Said Associate Professor Theseira: "Should we 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.
"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," she said.
In his round-up speech in Parliament, Mr Ng paid tribute to the late wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, who died of a heart attack last October.
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."