SINGAPORE: Snakes and geckos are typically considered wild animals.
But for some people, these reptiles are prized possessions worth breaking the law for so they can keep them as exotic pets.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it handled 105 cases pertaining to the possession, sale or trade of live wild animals seized from Singapore's borders, inland possession and online sales from 2013 to 2017.
Some of these animals are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international agreement ensuring that trade does not threaten wildlife species with extinction. Singapore is a signatory of CITES.
Among the five most common illegal wildlife seized by AVA are star tortoises, hedgehogs, ball pythons, sugar gliders and leopard geckos.
These animals are allowed to be kept as pets in some parts of the world, but are banned in Singapore.
Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s Director of Conservation & Research Sonja Luz told Channel NewsAsia that exotic wild animals are “often very difficult” to keep as pets.
“They have very special requirements that you can only understand if you really understand the biology of the animal,” she said. “Because it's illegal in Singapore, I think the expertise is simply not there."
They could also transmit zoonotic diseases to humans, Dr Luz added. Reptiles like snakes and lizards are known to carry the Salmonella bacteria, which can cause people to be seriously ill.
TRANSIT HUB FOR ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE
Despite its tough laws, Singapore is seen as a "country of primary concern" by wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, in a report released last year.
Singapore’s World Wide Fund for Nature spokesperson Janissa Ng said illegal traders make use of Singapore's strategic geographical location to carry out illicit activities.
"Wildlife trade in Asia is rampant and it's something that is a daily occurrence for people across Asia, even here in Singapore,” said Ms Ng.
"We're a transit hub, which basically (means that smugglers) take advantage of our connectivity and strong air and sea links,” she added.
To combat wildlife trafficking, Singapore has in place measures such as regulations, public education and industry engagement, said AVA. It also gathers intelligence and conducts investigations.
Those who violate the law pertaining to the illegal trading of wildlife could be fined up to S$500,000 or jailed for two years, or both.
Despite such measures, wildlife advocacy group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) believes that more deterrent methods are needed.
"We already have very good legislation that clearly states what's prohibited, what's not. We really look forward to and urge that at some point Singapore would consider sniffer dogs programmes to make our border controls tighter,” said ACRES’ Deputy Chief Executive Anbarasi Boopal.
ONLINE ILLEGAL TRADE 'A CONCERN’: ACRES
The use of online sites to trade wildlife illegally was another concern raised by ACRES.
In 2017 alone, ACRES' Animal Crime Investigation Unit picked up more than 500 online advertisements offering banned wildlife.
“It is shocking to see the level of trade online of in general live animals and also their parts,” Ms Anbarasi said.
“There's no proper form of verification, and currently there're no regulations that control and regulate online sale … they just have the access. They don't even have to go and visit a pet shop to look for something exotic ... (that) is the worse part of the online trade,” she added.