Parliament: Dealing with animal-related issues better

As the issues underlying the co-existence of animals and humans become increasingly complex, Singapore will be in a better position to manage them when animal welfare and management are put under the charge of the National Parks Board (NParks), said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of National Development, Ms Sun Xueling, yesterday.

The transfer of some of the tasks of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to NParks holds another benefit, she added.

Animal-borne diseases will be detected more quickly because of their combined expertise: NParks has know-how in ecology and animal population studies, while AVA is knowledgeable in veterinary science and diagnostic testing.

Ms Sun highlighted these advantages in Parliament during the debate on the NParks (Amendment) Bill, which was later passed.

It means NParks will, from April 1, be in charge of all matters on non-food plants and animals as AVA ceases to exist, following the transfer of its other tasks to a new statutory board, the Singapore Food Agency.

Said Ms Sun of the change: "Combining NParks' expertise in wildlife conservation and horticultural science, and AVA's in animal and plant health, and animal management, will ensure efforts to conserve Singapore's natural heritage are holistic and science-based."

Also, animal lovers and animal welfare groups will be able to work with NParks' strong base of 45,000 volunteers as well as stakeholders to come up with new and innovative solutions for animal issues, said Ms Sun, who is also Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Home Affairs Ministry.

 

Following the change, NParks will set up the Animal and Veterinary Service as the main touchpoint for animal matters, whether they occur in parks, nature reserves or other parts of Singapore.

Apart from being first-responders for animal-related issues, it will be the agency for people to call to remove wildlife, such as snakes and wild boars.

Five MPs spoke during the debate, with Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) having the House in stitches over her account of her constituents' dilemma in dealing with snakes and rats.

Some also wondered how NParks will tackle the potential conflicts between animals and people.

Ms Sun said a holistic suite of measures will be taken, including removing food sources for animals.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who is also chief executive of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, an animal protection charity, dwelt on the culling of animals deemed a nuisance.

Referring to the experience of some overseas cities, he said "culling has clearly not worked".

Citing Basel in Switzerland, he said 100,000 pigeons were killed over 24 years. But instead of going down, the pigeon population in 1988 rose to nearer 30,000, one-third more than the 20,000 in 1963.

It adopted different measures, such as removing pigeon eggs and controlling the availability of food, and the population plunged to 10,000 pigeons.

He urged the Government to look at the problem "not just from an animal welfare perspective but also from an effectiveness perspective".

Cheryl Teh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'Dealing with animal-related issues better'. Print Edition | Subscribe