Stiffer fines, longer jail term proposed for traffickers of endangered wildlife

Elephant tusks, pangolin scales and rhinoceros horns on at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Visitor Centre gallery last year. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Smugglers of endangered wildlife are set to face heavier penalties, under proposed changes to the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act.

A Bill introduced in Parliament on Monday (May 9) looks to triple the maximum jail term for such individuals from two years to six years, and raise the maximum fines from $50,000 per species to $100,000 per specimen.

Corporations trafficking endangered species would get harsher penalties than individuals under the changes, with fines of up to $200,000 for each specimen and a maximum term of eight years.

The proposed sanctions are among amendments - which come after a month-long public consultation last year involving more than 100 respondents - that would also make it easier for the National Parks Board (NParks) to clamp down on the illegal trade of animals and plants here.

South-east Asia is a prominent market for illegal wildlife trade, according to a wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic report in 2020. The report said Singapore serves as a key transit hub for legal wildlife trade, noting that the Republic's maximum jail term of two years for wildlife crime is the lowest among Asean member states, with the regional average at about eight years.

The harsher penalties will apply to those who traffick wildlife, or their parts, listed under Appendix I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). These include species such as Asian elephants and pangolins which are at risk of extinction.

The convention protects roughly 5,950 species of animals and 32,800 species of plants against over-exploitation through international trade.

Offenders who trade Appendix II species, whose trade is controlled in order to ensure their survival, or Appendix III species, which are protected in at least one country, will also face higher fines of up to $50,000 for each specimen, up from a maximum of $50,000 for each species.

The Bill also proposes a maximum jail term of four years for such offenders, up from two.

Corporations who trade Appendix II and III species face fines of up to $100,000 per specimen and imprisonment of not more than six years.

Under the amendments, NParks officers will also get stronger enforcement powers to tackle illegal wildlife trade.

These include punishing people who make misleading statements, permitting authorised officers to be accompanied by auxiliary police, and allowing the statutory board to recover costs for testing seized items.

Traders would get greater clarity on the scope of Singapore's wildlife trade regulations.

Urine, faeces and ambergris - whale vomit, which is used to make perfume - that are naturally excreted, for instance, will be excluded from the Act.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How said the changes will ensure the Act remains effective in tackling illegal wildlife trade in future.

"We will share more about the enhancements at the next Reading of the Bill in July," he added.

In November last year, NParks said the proposed amendments highlight Singapore's resolve to combat illegal trade in species listed under Cites, of which the Republic has been a party of since November 1986.

The changes come after Singapore banned domestic trade in elephant ivory since Sept 1, last year.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.