A Bill to amend the current Wild Animals and Birds Act (WABA) in Parliament was read for the second time and passed on Mar. 25, 2020
Heavier penalties will be introduced to better protect and manage Singapore's wildlife, and the WABA will be renamed the Wildlife Act (WA).
Drafted after public consultations
The Private Member's Bill, introduced by MPs who are not ministers, was first read in Parliament on Mar. 6.
The Bill was introduced by Nee Soon GRC MP and Acres' founder Louis Ng, and Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui.
The original WABA was first enacted in the 1965.
To draft the new Bill, a Wild Animal Legislation Review Committee chaired by Ng was set up, comprising representatives from nature and animal welfare groups, academics, religious organisations and traders' and pest management associations.
Public consultations and an online survey to gather public responses were conducted over two years.
The survey, hosted on REACH, garnered over a thousand responses. According to a statement by REACH, there was "strong support" for most proposals.
Many also agreed that there was a need to introduce new controls on the feeding and release of wildlife, stronger penalties for contravening the WABA, and stronger regulations on wildlife management companies.
Harsher penalties on poachers and wildlife traffickers
The current penalties are "far too low" to deter would-be poachers and traffickers, Ng said.
As such, here is a breakdown of some of the amendments in WA as compared to the penalties in WABA.
Poachers will be fined up to S$20,000, jailed for 12 months, or both.
Meanwhile, those who import, export or sell wildlife illegally can be fined up to S$10,000, jailed for 12 months, or both.
These penalties however, would be harsher if the case involves native protected species, like the Sunda pangolin.
These new penalties for poachers and traffickers are a sharp increase from the S$1,000 fine currently stipulated in WABA.
Ng also revealed in his speech that mitigation was equally crucial when it comes to protecting local wildlife.
A new section under WA would empower the National Parks Board (NParks) to dismantle and dispose of any unattended or unauthorised traps.
Heavier fines for those who feed and release wildlife
Steeper fines will also be introduced for those who feed wild animals.
Feeding of wildlife, such as pigeons, has been a consistent issue that NParks has been attempting to crack down on with enforcement notices, CCTV cameras, posters and outreach events.
From 2017 to 2019, 682 summons were issued for pigeon feeding offences.
Pigeon feeding is an offence under the Animals and Birds (Pigeons) Rules, and those caught are liable for a fine of up to S$500.
Fines will be amended to a steeper S$5,000 penalty for first-time offenders, and double that for second-time offenders.
These stricter measures could potentially pose a much greater deterrent to people who feed pigeons and other wildlife, and reduce the need for culling.
The WA will also impose a new S$5,000 fine for the release of animals.
Extend prohibition to whole of Singapore, not just parks and nature reserves
In his speech in parliament, Ng explained that the WA would seek to extend prohibition of the feeding and release of wildlife to the whole of Singapore. Previously, these restrictions were only imposed in parks and nature reserves.
Said Ng: "Animals are not stationary and have the freedom to travel from unrestricted areas to nature reserves. Hence, I see little rationale in creating demarcations when prohibiting the release of animals."
Inclusion of invertebrates in the Act
Ng also shared that invertebrates like insects and the endangered horseshoe crab would be included under WA.
This was supported by 90 per cent of respondents in the REACH survey.
WABA previously only protected birds and other animals.
Ng admitted that he received calls from angry people who kept ants as pets, believing that the new laws would make their hobby illegal.
This subsequently sparked much debate over the inclusion of invertebrates in the Act, and whether killing household pests like cockroaches should prohibited.
Ng gave the example of threatened invertebrates like horseshoe crabs that should be protected, but that it seemed excessive to prevent people from killing cockroaches or keeping ants as pets to educate children.
Such practices would not be illegal.
He concluded that while the amended laws would not prevent people from killing non-threatened invertebrates, the import of dangerous and invasive invertebrates would be regulated.
"In summary, you can keep ants as pets and you can trap them outside of parks and nature reserves. But if you plan to import them, trap them within parks and nature reserves, or trap selected threatened invertebrates, you will need NParks’ approval."
Issuing wildlife-related directions to developers
With WA, NParks will be able to issue wildlife-related directions to developers of building projects.
Ng said that there was previously a "gap" in the enforcement of certain conditions under the Environmental Impact Assessment framework to developers.
For example, developers that don't install hoardings to reduce wildlife-traffic conflicts would face limited recourse.
Now, relevant wildlife-related EIA conditions can be formally issued as directions.
Developers who fail to follow these directions could face fines of up to S$50,000, six months imprisonment, or both.
Ng said this would give the EIA process "additional "teeth"", and would further incentivise developers to comply with EIA conditions.
"My journey in amending the Wild Animals and Birds Act started more than 14 years ago, before I became a member of this House...
...The WABA has not been substantially amended since 1965. I’m glad that it is now time to amend this Act and align it with other animal-related legislation that we have already strengthened."
Top photo from Alex Yam / FB