SINGAPORE - An unemployed man has been fined $2,600 after releasing three venomous motoro stingrays into Lower Seletar Reservoir on June 2, an act that could upset the ecological balance of natural habitats and pose safety risks to users.
The Straits Times understands that the stingrays are yet to be caught, which have prompted the authorities to issue advisories to those performing work and taking part in water sports activities in the reservoir.
Larry Tan Chin Guan, 48, pleaded guilty in court on Tuesday (Sept 26) to abandoning his pets into the reservoir without a reasonable cause or excuse.
He also admitted that he had released them into a body of water in a catchment area park without prior written approval from an authorised officer.
Tan was the first offender to be hauled to court for abandoning stingrays, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).
AVA prosecutor Yap Teck Chuan said Tan bought four motoro stingrays from an aquarium in Yishun about a year ago but one of them died weeks after the purchase.
He bought five black diamond stingrays this May and decided to release the three surviving motoro stingrays into Lower Seletar Reservoir. Court papers did not mention the price he paid for all the animals.
Between 3pm and 4pm on June 2, Tan placed the three motoro stingrays into a bag with a portable air pump, drove for five minutes to a car park near Orchid Country Club and walked to the reservoir. He then released them into the water.
Tan also shot a video of the stingrays being freed into the reservoir, which he uploaded onto the SG Tiger Fish and Aquatic Livestock page on Facebook.
A netizen who viewed the clip alerted the PUB communications department at around 1am the next day.
On Tuesday, Ms Khong Pui Pui, who is the PUB prosecutor, said the national water agency managed to track down Tan and contacted him for an interview at its office on June 8.
She told the court that the release of such animals, that have been bred and kept in captivity, into the reservoirs harms the aquatic ecosystem.
She added: "These animals may not survive and those few that are able to do so disrupt the ecological balance of the natural habitats by competing with the native species for resources. The release of non-native species into the waters may also pose a risk to users of public water bodies."
Ms Khong said that since the incident, PUB has reminded all contractor workers not to catch or touch the stingrays with their hands when removing aquatic plants.
Reservoir staff have been told to be alert and surveillance has been stepped up at the reservoir and fishing areas to look out for offenders releasing fishes into the water.
"The PUB reservoir management team had to advise the People's Association and the Singapore Sports Council that their water activity users are to put on appropriate footwear and not to stand and walk in the reservoir shallow area," said Ms Khong.
In a joint media release with PUB, AVA reminded the public that it is irresponsible and cruel to abandon pets.
The release also stated: "Pet owners who are unable to look after their pet anymore should find a suitable home for their pet. Anglers can also call PUB if they catch any stingrays when fishing at the reservoirs instead of releasing them back into the (water)."
Tan, who was unrepresented, told the court that he was unaware that the release of animals into the reservoir is forbidden.
The AVA had earlier told ST that motoro rays are allowed to be sold in aquariums as pets.
According to a 2010 ST report, the freshwater rays are native to South American rivers and can grow to the size of dinner plates.
They had been found previously in Upper Seletar Reservoir and likely had been released by hobbyists.
The rays can deliver venomous stings that cause extreme pain and even death.
First-time offenders convicted of abandoning animals can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $10,000.