Illegal trade shifts online

While the authorities have cracked down on errant pet shops selling illegal wildlife, the exotic pet trade has shifted to online sales.

"The physical trade in exotic animals at pet shops is almost down to zero," said Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) founder Louis Ng. "But a number of investigations we've done showed that the online trade is on the increase now."

From June to December last year, Acres discovered 459 online advertisements touting exotic pets on sites such as Gumtree, Locanto, Carousell and Facebook. Two years ago, the animal welfare group found 156 ads in the same six-month period.

"It's all shifting to a more virtual world where identity is not required; anyone can buy, which is quite scary," said Acres deputy chief executive Anbarasi Boopal.

When this reporter conducted his own investigation on local online marketplaces such as Adpost, ChaosAds and Locanto, he found 14 postings advertising illegal pets for sale.

Six ads were found on Adpost and another four on ChaosAds. On Locanto, a seller named Ryan2Ring was looking to offload a baby hedgehog for $450 because of "work commitments".

On ChaosAds, a seller going by the name of Jov Roy was hawking threatened species of tortoises, including Galapagos, sulcata and radiated tortoises. When contacted via e-mail about the radiated tortoise, "Roy" confirmed its availability and said he had been shipping both turtles and tortoises from Germany to Singapore with no issues.

He listed the price of an adult radiated tortoise, which is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as "critically endangered", at US$260 (S$360) with shipping.

According to Dut, the bearded-dragon owner interviewed elsewhere in this Insight package, a baby radiated tortoise can cost up to $8,000 if bought locally. This points to huge savings for people who buy their exotic pets online.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) could not be immediately reached for comment on the online illegal pet trade.

The agency works with online sites such as forums, classified ad pages and auction sites to alert them about laws prohibiting the sale of illegal wildlife in Singapore.

In November 2013, the AVA acted on a tip-off and caught a dealer trying to sell a pair of albino hedgehogs and two sugar gliders on a local website for a total of $2,650. He was fined $4,000.

Currently, there are no regulations governing the online sale of animals, although Acres is pushing to "ban live animal trade" online.

Aqil Haziq Mahmud

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 04, 2017, with the headline Illegal trade shifts online. Subscribe