S'pore woman, 40, sprayed neighbour's bird with insecticide, likely led to its breathing difficulties

The woman pleaded not guilty to causing unnecessary pain and suffering to the bird.

Zoe Ern Yap | February 01, 2023, 11:13 AM

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In recent months, cases of animal abuse have made headlines.

In another case of alleged wildlife cruelty, a woman recently stood trial on Jan. 26 for spraying her neighbour's pet bird with insecticide.

The 40-year-old woman, Chee Huiru, had sprayed insecticide at her neighbour's caged bird.

She used a fan to blow the mist upwards from her flat window towards the cage, resulting in the bird suffering from coughing and breathing difficulties, reported CNA.

According to court documents seen by Mothership, Chee is charged with causing unnecessary pain and suffering to a Jambul bird, which is an offence under the Animals and Birds Act.

She is self-represented, and pleaded not guilty.

How the incident unfolded

CNA reported that Rahmat Ismail, a passer-by, was walking past Block 133 Edgedale Plains on Nov. 11, 2021 when he heard the sound of something being sprayed while walking by.

When he looked up, he saw a hand spraying "something" upward from a flat on the third floor. On the ledge, there was a fan being laid flat blowing the spray upward.

Above the flat were three birds hanging in cages from the fourth floor. Rahmat then filmed a video of what he saw.

Initially, he thought the spray could have been aimed at insects as there were mango trees growing nearby.

However, he surmised that the birds were targeted on purpose as the insecticide was pointed directly at them.

Together with his daughter, he paid a visit to the flat that owned the birds, and sent the homeowner the video he had taken showing someone's hand spraying towards the birds.

The owners' response

According to CNA, the homeowner, Siti Kamariah Mahli, testified that Rahmat had gone to her flat to inform her of "foul play on my husband's pet bird" on the evening of Nov 11, 2021.

She was "totally shocked" by what Rahmat shared with her, and subsequently reached out to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), who then told her to submit an animal feedback report under the National Parks Board (NParks).

On Nov 25, 2021, an NParks officer went to Siti's flat to take statements and photos of the birds.

He also photographed the unit below, with the fan still sticking out of the master bedroom window.

Only one of the birds hanging at the window appeared to be affected by the insecticide and had breathing difficulties.

Siti said she did not think that the bird's coughing was due to "long-term foul play", instead attributing it to the bird being sick all this while, reported CNA.

Not the first disagreement between neighbours

Siti has resided at the flat since 2004 with her husband and three young sons, and apparently had prior disagreements with Chee and her husband.

She said she received an anonymous note five years ago, stating that her air-conditioning compressor was too loud and requesting her to change it.

She paid no mind to it as she did not know who wrote it, but Chee's husband later came by her flat.

He said that between 11pm and 3am, he had been hearing loud thuds and banging from her home, noises which Siti's husband denied causing.

Chee also complained of sounds of chairs dragging and marbles dropping coming from Siti's home.

According to CNA, Siti shared that Housing Board officers paid visits to her family, and multiple noise complaints about her flat that she believes to be from the accused were made to the town council.

Bird's condition deteriorated

CNA reported that the bird with breathing difficulties was named RSM, which stands for Regimental Sergeant Major, a rank in the army. It was so named for its loud voice.

Siti's husband had hung RSM outside his master bedroom window in a cage as it had a coughing issues, in the hopes of it recovering by exposing it to sunlight and morning dew.

He was advised to take the bird to a vet after the case was reported to NParks, and he did so in December 2021.

The vet suggested that the Jambul was quiet but responsive and had open-mouth breathing, and that it was likely that it had developed breathing issues after inhaling the insecticide.

Despite efforts to care for and administer medication to the bird, RSM died six months later at an estimated age of four to six years.

Siti's husband claimed that a Jambul bird can live up to 20 years.

Result of the trial

According to Shin Min Daily News, after NParks received Siti's report, investigators went down to take Chee's statement and told her she was accused of spraying birds with insecticide, and that they wished to examine the unit's master bedroom window.

However, the accused claimed she was merely spraying the insecticide at some mosquitoes.

Chee denied that she was trying to hurt the birds, and refused to let the officers into her house.

After taking into account what all the prosecution's witnesses, including Rahmat and Siti's husband had testified, Chee was found guilty by the judge.

The accused chose not to plead guilty, and the case resumed on the morning of Jan. 27.

If convicted, Chee could be jailed for up to 18 months, fined up to S$15,000, or both.

What are Jambul birds?

According to the National Library Board (NLB)'s Infopedia, the Merbah Jambul bird, also known as the red-whiskered bulbul, is a popular caged bird species introduced to Singapore in the 1910s.

The species is now a resident breeder in Singapore likely due to escaped pets.

The bird is native to India through Thailand, and the northern part of the Malay Peninsula.

They are often seen in pairs and are identified by the distinctive black crest, red and white cheeks which are demarcated with a black malar stripe, which is a distinct dark plumage patch below the eye.

Interestingly, this species was featured in the is featured on Singapore S$5 notes of the “Bird Series” currency notes released by the Monetary Authority of Singapore between 1976 and 1984.

It was also in the 1978 postage stamp series “Singing Birds” as the S$0.10 stamp.

Cover image from Enhan Entertainment / YouTube