Heating up war on wildlife trade

The seized ivory was worth about $13 million, and the AVA's move ensured it did not re-enter the market. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

In one of the strongest signals of Singapore's "zero tolerance" for the illegal wildlife trade, the authorities on Monday destroyed 7.9 tonnes of ivory that more than 900 African elephants died for.

The seized ivory is worth about $13 million, and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) move ensured it did not re-enter the market.

Other countries have taken similar actions. On April 30, Kenya torched some $135 million worth, with its President Uhuru Kenyatta saying "ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants".

Singapore's action was a good show of support for the global commitment to end the trade. But measures to combat wildlife trafficking must go beyond the symbolic. This is especially since the Republic's status as a trade and shipping hub means it is a transit point for more than just ivory.

Conservation groups have suggested proactive measures such as raising the penalties for wildlife trafficking; improving enforcement through ways such as using sniffer dogs; and monitoring the impact of public symbolic acts like the ivory destruction on consumers and traders.

Studies show the illegal wildlife trade harms more than just animals. A recent Interpol report found it to be linked closely to other forms of serious crime, such as drug trafficking, murder and even terrorism, when revenues from trade in wildlife parts are used to fund rebel organisations and terrorist networks.

AVA has, among other things, acted by conducting unannounced checks at retail outlets, and inspecting all shipments that come under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). Trade in animals on the Cites list is prohibited without a permit. It has also urged people not to fuel demand.

Tackling the illegal wildlife trade would undoubtedly require action from all parties. But considering the links that the illegal wildlife trade has with other forms of serious crime, perhaps the Government should look to tackling it with the same determination it took to make Singapore a drug-free country.

Audrey Tan

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline Heating up war on wildlife trade. Subscribe