Harsher penalties proposed for offences against wildlife

It will be illegal to feed wildlife or release animals into the wild without a permit, should a new Bill introduced in Parliament yesterday be passed.

The Wild Animals and Birds (Amendment) Bill would also introduce harsher penalties for those who break the law.

For example, those who kill, trap, take or keep wildlife without approval currently face a fine of up to $1,000. But under the proposed changes, 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 private member's Bill was initiated by Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and 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. These include the nature and animal welfare communities, religious leaders, pest management companies, academics and lawyers.

"It has been a privilege chairing this committee and having meetings where we argue passionately, agree to disagree and work together so that we can have a stronger piece of legislation," said Mr Ng in Parliament.

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 Nominated MP Walter Woon in 1994.

In 2018, a survey of more than 1,000 people by government feedback unit Reach found that nearly three-quarters of Singaporeans believed people should not be allowed to feed wildlife.

More than four-fifths of those polled also felt that animals should not be released into the wild without a permit, while two-thirds said current penalties were not adequate to deter individual offenders.

The original Wild Animals and Birds Act was enacted in the 1960s and has undergone little revision since then. It also does not protect any invertebrates, even those such as the endangered horseshoe crab.

Mr Ng said that the new Bill seeks to "strengthen the protection, preservation and management of wildlife for the purposes of maintaining a healthy ecosystem and safeguarding of public safety and health".

The proposed changes would bring invertebrates under the protection of the law and allow the National Parks Board to require measures to be implemented to address the impact of developments or works in relation to wildlife.

It would also strengthen enforcement powers under the Act.

For example, it will allow authorised officers to enter and search a place where wildlife is kept or suspected to be kept.

"I've waited a long time to say this," Mr Ng said in introducing the Bill. "Mr Speaker, I beg to move."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2020, with the headline 'Harsher penalties proposed for offences against wildlife'. Print Edition | Subscribe