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Birds sold in mostly illegal online trade in Singapore may be smuggled, poached: Report

SINGAPORE — A report by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) involved in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade has found that online sellers of live birds in 44 Singapore-based Facebook groups from December 2018 to April 2019 were mostly unlicensed and therefore acting illegally.

A photo supplied by Traffic, a non-governmental organisation, shows cages containing birds called White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus that it said were meant for sale in Singapore.

A photo supplied by Traffic, a non-governmental organisation, shows cages containing birds called White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus that it said were meant for sale in Singapore.

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  • An NGO found that most sellers of live birds in 44 Singapore-based Facebook groups were unlicensed and illegal
  • The sources of the birds sold were unclear, with some appearing to be smuggled into Singapore or poached locally
  • Despite efforts by the authorities to clamp down, many of these Facebook groups have resurfaced
  • The organisation recommended a system requiring owners to register their wildlife pets as proof of legal purchase

 

SINGAPORE — A report by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) involved in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade has found that online sellers of live birds in 44 Singapore-based Facebook groups from December 2018 to April 2019 were mostly unlicensed and therefore acting illegally.

Traffic, the NGO that published a report titled Trading Faces: Live Bird Trade on Facebook in Singapore, found that although there is a thriving online bird trade here, it is unclear if the sources of the birds sold online are legal.

Besides highlighting unlicensed sellers, the report released on Thursday (Dec 2) also found evidence online that showed that the birds on sale were being smuggled or illegally poached locally.

Ms Serene Chng and Mr Chiok Wen Xuan, the report’s authors, said that the legal sale of birds is now monitored at the trader level. This means that only registered pet shops, breeders and importers are checked closely for legal sales.

They recommended that the Singapore authorities set up a compulsory wildlife pet registration system to make buyers more accountable and deter unlicensed sellers from operating online.

LIVE ANIMALS SOLD ONLINE

The report found that there was an active online bird trade in Singapore.

The authors monitored 44 groups on Facebook selling wildlife from December 2018 to April 2019.

They found that these groups sold a total of 3,354 live animals. Almost 99 per cent of the animals were birds.

There were also 662 unique traders involved in these Facebook groups, showing that the bird trade is “not insignificant” in Singapore, Ms Chng told TODAY.

LICENCE TO SELL

The report highlighted the possibility of unlicensed online sellers operating in the Facebook groups.

For example, there were online posts in these groups offering birds, particularly parrots, bred in captivity for sale.

The report noted that while these birds could be procured legally from local bird farms or imported from commercial breeding facilities, they could also be bred by hobbyists who offer them for sale.

It is illegal for hobbyists to sell their birds in Singapore without a licence.

Ms Chng said she was confident that "most, if not all" of the online sellers were unlicensed because only pet shops and bird farms licensed by the National Parks Board (NParks) may legally sell birds.

She added that most of the online sellers monitored in the report are individuals and not licensed traders.

SOURCING FOR BIRDS 

While Singapore has a thriving online bird trade, the sources of these birds are unclear, Ms Chng said.

Given that commercial breeding operations for birds in Singapore mostly focus on high-value non-native species such as parrots, it is also possible that wild-sourced native birds sold online could have been illegally trapped in Singapore or smuggled from neighbouring countries, the report noted.

For example, the Chinese Hwamei songbird, which is not native to Singapore, was indicated for sale 133 times in online posts, but its last recorded import into Singapore was in 2004. This suggests that the birds may have been brought illegally into the country.

Facebook users in the groups surveyed also implied through their posts their ability to bring back birds from their contacts in Thailand and China. Bird imports from both of these countries are now prohibited.

The online users would post about their travels to these countries and ask fellow group members in Singapore about their interest in buying the pet birds there.

The study also provided evidence to show that some wildlife offered for sale had been poached locally by the Facebook users themselves.

One post on Facebook group Singapore Bird Market, for instance, described setting up a trap for the Oriental Magpie Robin.

PERSISTENT BEHAVIOUR

Despite efforts to clamp down on illegal trade through Facebook groups, a check by the report’s authors showed that they continued to resurface.

For example, although NParks and Facebook moved to close the Facebook groups or remove posts with illegal wildlife trade activity based on Traffic’s information, the study’s authors found that 36 out of the 44 groups were still active in April this year.

“These observations point towards the persistent behaviour of online traders and buyers to circumvent regulatory actions, and the continued usage and relevance of online platforms in the trade of live birds in Singapore,” the report stated.

STRENGTHENING REGULATIONS

Ultimately, there is no way to know what proportion of birds sold online are sourced legally, which demonstrates a shortfall in the current legal system, Ms Chng told TODAY.

She said that in Singapore, the laws do not require bird owners to maintain records of their purchases or a licence to keep them. As such, there is no way to prove that owners obtained their wildlife pets from licensed pet shops.

"Regulation is at the point of registered traders, but these online sellers are not registered. There is no way to track where the birds are coming from,” she added.

The report recommended that NParks consider implementing a system requiring owners to register their wildlife pets instead.

This will provide proof of legal purchase and record any change in ownership of the animal. It will also allow action to be taken against those who illegally buy wild animals, it added.

Dr Adrian Loo, the group director of wildlife management at NParks, said in response to the report that the Government adopts a multi-pronged approach to regulate and enforce against illegal wildlife trade.

This includes working with partner agencies to conduct checks at border checkpoints, as well as regulating and monitoring physical and online marketplaces.

He reminded members of the public to buy pets through licensed pet shops and to report suspected poaching or smuggling activities to NParks.

“We will continue to explore various options to detect and deal with illegal activities involving birds,” Dr Loo said.

Related topics

smuggling poaching wildlife birds animals ngo NParks

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