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Some animals without backbones could be protected, but not illegal to kill mosquitoes and cockroaches

SINGAPORE — Threatened invertebrates – or animals without backbones – such as the Common Rose butterfly and horseshoe crabs in Singapore will be offered more protection under proposed changes to the law spearheaded by Member of Parliament Louis Ng.

SINGAPORE — Threatened invertebrates – or animals without backbones – such as the Common Rose butterfly and horseshoe crabs in Singapore will be offered more protection under proposed changes to the law spearheaded by Member of Parliament Louis Ng.

Just as it is an offence to kill, take or capture birds, reptiles, fish and animals with backbones here, Mr Ng and his team are looking to have threatened invertebrates covered under the Wild Animals and Birds Act.

This will assuage concerns of ant hobbyists and others who wondered if it would become illegal to swat mosquitoes or kill cockroaches. Ant hobbyists catch queen ants to start colonies, which they keep at home.

"So if the ant is not endangered, they can carry on catching and trapping them, but (people should not be) going into the nature reserves (to find their queen ants)," said Mr Ng at a media briefing to present findings of a public consultation on government portal Reach.

The survey drew more than 1,000 responses from June 18 to July 20.

Some concerns came from parents who wondered if a ban on capturing all invertebrates might stifle the curiosity of children, who may want to capture insects for their school projects.

Mr Ng said including only invertebrates listed in the Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore would be a "reasonable start". There are 171 invertebrate species listed in the book's 2008 edition.

Draft changes to the Wild Animals and Birds Act, first enacted in 1965, are expected to be ready in October and another round of public consultation will be conducted then.

Mr Ng chairs the 17-member Wild Animal Legislation Review Committee tasked to look into changes to the Act, which he previously said was outdated. Suggestions include banning the feeding of wild animals throughout Singapore. Currently, the practice is only banned in the nature reserves and parks under the Parks and Trees Act.

On concerns that the proposed changes might make Singapore too restrictive a place to enjoy nature, Mr Ng said: "The concern really is that we want to make sure everyone can enjoy nature and appreciate nature in the long term.

"If we continue to disturb, if we continue to feed, if we continue to release these animals, it will be damaging to our local biodiversity in the ecosystem and ultimately, nobody will be able to enjoy our wildlife anymore."

Seventy per cent of survey respondents agreed that feeding of wildlife should not be allowed, while 90 per cent agreed that selected invertebrates should be protected.

There was disquiet among cat and dog lovers who wanted to continue feeding strays. They will be able to do so, said Ms Karen Sim, secretary of the committee. The Act does not cover domestic dogs and cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, domestic pigs, poultry and ducks.

The proposed changes aim to target feeding that contributes to human-wildlife conflicts, such as the feeding of wild boars and monkeys, said Mr Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan, deputy chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres). Two individuals who apparently drove regularly to Tuas to feed bread to wild boars, for instance, could have resulted in some 20 of the animals loitering at Tuas bus terminal, he told TODAY. A video of the herd last year alarmed some members of the public.

PIGEONS IN NEED OF PROTECTION?

One of the least popular suggestions among survey respondents was the inclusion of six species of wild birds for protection under the Act: The house crow, purple-backed starling, Philippine glossy starling, common mynah, white-vented mynah, and feral pigeons.

Only 61 per cent of respondents agreed that the species should be protected. Others felt they were pests that dirty the environment and spread diseases, and were so common that they do not need protection.

The committee will go ahead with the proposal to protect the six species, to close a loophole that currently lets off many bird poachers.

There have been many instances of poachers looking to trap rare birds who lied that they were targeting an unprotected species, when approached, said Mr Ng.

Mr Kalai said Acres receives reports of suspected poaching "on a daily basis", but the suspects would either say they already own the bird, or are trying to find a lost bird.

The committee is also looking to prohibit the deployment of nets, traps, hunting devices and instruments – making it illegal for someone to be seen with a trap, even outside a nature reserve. Recreational anglers will be exempted.

Eighty-one per cent of respondents supported this move, on the account that traps harm otters. Those who were against the proposal said this would make it hard for people to trap wildlife for research, get rid of pests, or return lost pets.

Eighty-one per cent of respondents supported banning the release of all wild animals without a permit.

The committee also wants to align penalties under the Act (fines of up to S$1,000) with the Parks and Trees Act (up to six months' jail or a fine of up to S$50,000) to offer equal protection to animals outside of nature reserves. Sixty-six per cent of respondents think the current penalties are not enough to deter offenders.

Community volunteers could be given enforcement powers to deal with selected offences such as the feeding or release of animals. Mr Ng said the powers will be similar to that of the National Environment Agency's (NEA) community volunteer programme.

NEA volunteers can request for the particulars of litterbugs, those who smoke in prohibited areas or spit and urinate in public places, pet owners who do not pick up after their pets, and drivers who have smoky vehicles or leave the engine of a stationary vehicle running.

The particulars are submitted to NEA for follow-up action.

The committee will also propose abolishing an archaic law allowing private individuals to keep wildlife such as kangaroos, wallabies and orang utans as pets as long as they obtain a licence to do so.

 

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