SINGAPORE: A 58-year-old founder of a nature group was fined S$4,700 on Tuesday (Apr 16) for leading a group of people into a park after it was closed.
Ben Lee Chin Tiong, who was a volunteer with the National Parks Board, organised a night-time photography event at Windsor Nature Park on Feb 20 as an activity for his nature conservation group Nature Trekker, the court heard.
In total, seven people including photographers and Lee's maid entered the park, which closed at 7pm.
As the gantry arm at the park's carpark entrance did not budge - as it was programmed to do so while the park was closed - Lee parked his car in front of the gantry and told two other drivers to follow suit.
The group of seven people followed Lee into the park at 8.37pm, where they set up equipment for their night photography shoot.
An NParks officer noticed the group entering the carpark and saw the three cars parked outside the gantry, blocking the entrance.
He contacted NParks' enforcement team for help and conducted a search for the nature group with two officers who joined him at 9.20pm.
They found the five men and two women about 230m into the park in a dark area. The group had set up spotlights, while some used torchlights and camera flashes.
The NParks officers stopped the group and escorted them out of the park.
LEE ASSURED MEMBERS HE HAD APPROVAL TO ENTER PARK
Lee later admitted that he organised the event and arranged for the other members to meet that night for a photography session.
He did not publicise the event on the Nature Trekker group's website, but had done so in a private WhatsApp chat group he ran.
He assured some of the group members that he had the approval to enter the park at night, even though he did not.
Lee pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Parks and Trees Regulations. NParks told CNA that it is reviewing Lee's status as a volunteer.
Dr Adrian Loo, NParks' group director of conservation, said in a statement after the hearing that nature reserves are protected areas of rich biodiversity, with special restrictions on activities that can be carried out there.
"Most of our native fauna are nocturnal and sensitive to human activity. Hence, all our nature reserves and the buffer parks that immediately abut them are closed at night to allow our native fauna a more conducive environment to forage and mate," said Dr Loo.
"Sensitive fauna includes the pangolin, mousedeer, slow loris and the cinnamon bushfrog whose populations we are currently monitoring, carrying out habitat enhancements for and have in place species recovery efforts to build resilience and sustainability in their populations."
He added that other than disturbance caused to animals, there are safety concerns involved in night hiking.
"These areas are deserted and not lit at night. Unfamiliar hikers might get lost in the surroundings or put themselves at higher risk," he said.
Dr Loo reminded all park visitors to respect the opening hours of any national park, nature reserve or public park.