SINGAPORE: From Apr 1, all matters to do with wildlife, as well as non-food plants and animals, will be under the purview of the National Parks Board (NParks).
This comes after the Amendment Bill to transfer non-food plant and animal-related functions from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to NParks was passed on Tuesday (Feb 12).
Currently, AVA is in charge of the health, welfare and management of plants and animals, as well as plant-related laboratory functions.
NParks manages wildlife conservation and ecology as well as horticultural science.
Under the present arrangement, when a call for help is requested, the agency responsible for providing aid is dependent on where the incident is taking place and the type of animal involved.
AVA is responsible for all urban areas and community animals such as stray cats and dogs, while NParks is responsible for nature areas and wildlife.
Member of Parliament Louis Ng, who is also director of the animal welfare charity ACRES, lauded the transfer and said that it addresses a "significant problem" faced by the animal protection community on the ground.
"Many times, we respond to feedback related to monkeys, for example. If that particular monkey is in a nature reserve, we inform NParks. As we wait for NParks officers to arrive, the monkey moves sometimes just by a few metres and ends up outside the nature reserve. We then have to inform AVA.
"Once, the monkey was at a bus stop and we were told to inform LTA instead. As these animals are quite mobile, things can get complicated with multiple agencies involved," said Mr Ng.
The transfer will see the set-up of a new Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS), which will serve as the main touch-point for animal-related issues whether they occur in parks, nature reserves or other parts of Singapore, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of National Development, Ms Sun Xueling.
With the changes, Ms Sun said that NParks will be "better positioned" to manage human-animal issues, as they become increasingly complex.
MP Lee Bee Wah said that there have been more cases of wildlife such as pythons and wild boars encroaching into urban spaces such as residential areas.
"What should we do in such situations? I have always found it perplexing that the police are called in to handle snakes," Ms Lee said.
There are cases of humans hurting animals too, such as by fishing illegally, which may upset the biodiversity of certain river banks, she said.
"(Through) the Government’s decision to create a lead organisation for the management of wildlife, (it) is evident that it recognises the importance of this issue to the environment and to the hearts of Singaporeans.
"It is good to take care of wildlife, but, please do not forget to take care of our residents’ safety and the (hygiene of the) living environment," Ms Lee said.
In response, Ms Sun said that the Government will continue to heighten public awareness regarding wildlife. When members of the public encounter wildlife, they can call the existing Animal Response Centre at 1800-476-1600, which will be managed by NParks in the future.
"Indeed, in our biophilic City in a Garden, we live in close proximity to nature and should continue to try to minimise friction in human-animal interactions. The transfer of animal-related functions from AVA to NParks will put us in a better position to do so in several ways," said Ms Sun.
With the transfer, NParks will also oversee disease detection at all potential points of incursion such as import points, migratory wildlife and between wildlife and urban animals.
Ms Sun added that by integrating its existing expertise in biodiversity, conservation and ecology with AVA's capabilities in animal and plant health as well as veterinary science, NParks will be able to better incorporate the monitoring and management of zoonotic diseases into its wildlife management and species recovery programmes.
Under the changes, all AVA employees who are involved in non-food undertakings will be transferred to NParks. Similarly, those who are involved in food undertakings will be transferred to the newly set up Singapore Food Agency.