SINGAPORE: There will be greater penalties for feeding and releasing animals in the wild with amendments to the Wild Animals and Birds Act, which members of Parliament (MPs) passed on Wednesday (Mar 25).
The amendments to the Act were introduced in a private member's Bill by Nee Soon MP Louis Ng, who is also the chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society.
Renamed the Wildlife Act, the amended legislation aims to strengthen the protection, preservation and management of wildlife in Singapore.
It will give powers to the director-general of wildlife management from the National Parks Board (NParks) to issue directions to developers on wildlife-related measures.
While the Government currently works with developers to manage any environmental impact stemming from their projects, NParks is unable to take action if they fail to comply with wildlife-related mitigation measures, said Ms Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development.
But under the amended Act, the agency will be able to issue these requirements as formal directions, and there would be penalties for non-compliance such as fines and imprisonment, she said.
“This new power under the Wildlife Act does not stand alone,” she said. “It is part of a broader framework that ensures that the environmental impact of developmental works is minimised.”
In addition, existing regulations for animal-related offences will be enhanced.
While MPs welcomed the Bill - with Mr Christopher De Souza and Nominated MP Anthea Ong commending the comprehensiveness and timeliness of the amendments - many also raised concerns about the scope of enforcement.
FEEDING, RELEASING WILDLIFE
Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai highlighted that the fine for feeding stray pigeons is currently S$500 under the Animals and Birds Act - which is separate from the Wildlife Act.
The amended Wildlife Act, on the other hand, imposes fines of not more than S$5,000 for first-time offenders who feed wildlife, and S$10,000 for subsequent offences. Under the Amendment Bill, pigeons fall under the category of “wildlife”.
In response, Ms Sun said that the section Mr Murali referred to will be repealed and the feeding of all wildlife will fall under the Wildlife Act instead.
The feeding and release of wildlife will also be an offence everywhere in Singapore, not just in parks and nature reserves.
Mr Murali suggested that people may feed or release wildlife as acts of kindness, citing an example of a person feeding and releasing a wounded eagle, which could now be an offence.
NParks “will take a reasonable approach to assess each situation”, said Ms Sun, who encouraged the public to call NParks’ wildlife hotline when encountering wildlife in distress.
“While we appreciate the kindness behind trying to help wildlife, sometimes feeding or releasing them may cause even more harm to the animal.”
As for those who may release wildlife as part of religious practices like mercy release, NParks plans to work with religious groups to “explore alternatives … such as tree planting and volunteering at animal shelters”.
Mr Ng also addressed questions from the public, and said that the amendments will not penalise the feeding of stray cats and dogs.
“Domestic species of cats and dogs are not covered under this Act. However, it is important to feed responsibly, as leftover food could attract pests and other wildlife,” he said.
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The new amendments will also not extend to pests like termites, cockroaches and silverfish.
Responding to Mr De Souza on whether the Bill would “hamper or prevent the extermination of pests”, Mr Ng said that the intent was not to criminalise the killing and trapping of pests “as such activities do not undermine the overall aim of wildlife protection”.
WHAT CAN THE STATE DO?
Under the new Bill, the state has to first prove that the perpetrator had intended to kill, trap, take or keep the animal without a permit.
MP Cheng Li Hui said these actions are hard to verify, and suggested prohibiting anyone from killing, keeping or taking a wildlife animal without a permit, and leave it only to the professionals.
But this means people might have to call in professionals to handle even minor pest issues, Mr Ng said.
There are also safeguards to protect threatened species and the ecosystems.
Ms Ong asked if ordinary citizens would be authorised to remove and dismantle traps.
Mr Ng said that only the likes of NParks or public officers will be appointed to do so.
Giving citizens power could cause undue risk, he said. There could be potential abuses of power, or the volunteers themselves might get into trouble if they attempt to confront offenders.
People who come across an offence should inform NParks instead.
In his closing speech, Mr Ng, who spearheaded this Bill, said that some have told him that Singapore should not ban people from feeding wild animals as it cultivates a love for nature.
However, what starts with good intentions creates more problems in the ecosystem such as an unnatural rise in wildlife population, he said. It alters the behaviour of the animals and can lead to more human-wildlife conflict.
“Any appreciation for nature and wildlife among our people must be built on a foundation of safety and respect,” Mr Ng said.
“This Bill, and the proposed ban on wildlife feeding, will reduce human-wildlife conflict, address public safety concerns and safeguard the welfare of wildlife and our ecosystem.”