• Perspectives
  • 25 August 2020

Empowering others to tackle the wildlife trade

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) is a non-profit organisation which sets out to rescue and rehabilitate native wild animals which have been injured or gotten lost along their way in Singapore’s urban jungle. 

 It also plays an active role in tackling the region’s illegal wildlife trade where endangered animals are caught, trafficked, and sold as pets or killed to be used in medicines or as ornaments. 

In 2018, Acres received financial support through the #OCBCCares Environment Fund to educate the public on how to co-exist with wild animals such as snakes, civets, and birds and to minimise human-wildlife conflict.

Our parent company OCBC Bank had launched the Fund  in 2017 to financially support ground-up projects that can enhance Singapore's environmental landscape, an area where private sector sponsorship remains relatively thin on the ground. The Fund has since announced that it will refocus on upstream projects from 2020, to address gaps where sustainable and strategic support is needed to mitigate climate change issues. 

Over a period of eight months, Acres conducted outreach projects to increase public awareness of the do’s and don’ts when encountering wild animals such as pythons or monkeys in an urban setting. This was done by speaking to residents, conducting talks in schools, and displaying advisories in residential areas. 

Acres’ deputy chief executive Ms Anbarasi Boopal sheds light on the organisation’s plight to protect and conserve wildlife.

Who would guess that there is an illegal wildlife trade in Singapore? 

In a bustling city filled with skyscrapers, it is easy to forget that the country is also home to many species of endangered and exotic species of animals such as slow lorises and pangolins. 

These animals are commonly snatched and cruelly smuggled around the world to be sold as pets or butchered for their body parts which are made into traditional medicine, luxury goods or ornaments.

 A report by British-based organisation Traffic, which monitors the global wildlife trade, confirmed that Singapore remains a key transit hub for illegal imports of birds and reptiles from Southeast Asia.

 This is troubling as the trade continues to be plied despite enforcement measures and successful seizures from the authorities coupled with our efforts over the years.

 Since we started our operations in 2001, Acres has repatriated scores of animal victims of the illegal wildlife trade to their countries or origin. Repatriations include 51 Indian star tortoises to India and four giant Asian pond turtles and two elongated tortoises to Malaysia in 2018.

 The effort has helped to reduce the practice of poaching, smuggling and illegal rearing of wildlife through working closely with the authorities, communities, and the members of public.

Another concern for us is the effect that the Chinese zodiac, where different animals are assigned to each year of a 12-year cycle, has on the illegal wildlife trade.

 Whenever the Year of the Tiger comes around, the demand for their parts tends to be higher than usual. In 2010, which was the Year of the Tiger, we decided to do something about it by specifically focusing on curbing the illegal tiger parts trade in Singapore.

 We were also heeding the call by the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement between governments, which specifically highlighted the illegal tiger parts trade as an increasing global worry. 

To facilitate this, we set up an Animal Crime Investigation Unit – the first of its kind in Singapore -  and one of its first tasks was to go undercover to suss out the alleged sale of tiger parts at more than 130 jewellery and antique shops. This led to tiger parts being seized from 59 shops after we presented our findings to the authorities.

 In 2015, we did another round of similar checks on such shops. This time, only four retailers were  dealt with by the authorities – a vast improvement from before.

 Traditional Chinese medicine shops were on our radar years earlier on but were no longer a serious concern as many had already publicly declared that they would not sell animal parts such as tiger bone, bear bile and rhino horn. 

Today, the illegal wildlife trade has gone online with many deals made on chat groups and web forums. As recent as December last year, a Singaporean youth was arrested for attempting to sell a false gharial, a type of freshwater crocodile, via a Telegram group chat, following an undercover operation conducted by Acres. 

The challenge for us persists. We understand that not everyone is an animal-lover but our team wants to empower those who want to make a difference with the right tools, to help animals in need, and to make the right choices when it comes to wild animal conservation.

 We hope to bust myths that wild animals are not threatening and certainly not trophies to acquire as prized possessions. On a community level, educational outreach programmes and roadshows are regularly organised to raise awareness and to empower people to see wild animals in a different light.

 Singapore is in a unique position. It is listed as one of the top cities in the world for its greenery and it is only natural that animals are attracted to it. While there is no way we can train animals to behave a certain way, we can certainly educate the public on the best ways to co-exist with wildlife.

 In doing so, we can inculcate stronger ethics and a sense of compassion for these animals which are often deemed a nuisance and culled or poached for the illegal trade.

 It is my view that there is strong potential for Singapore to be a role model in preserving biodiversity and the public has a huge role to play.

  When I see our awesome 800-strong volunteer community clocking up to 19,000 hours a year with Acres, it gives me hope that individuals like you and I can make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of animals.

 

 

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Version: July 2020