Illegal Wildlife Trafficking in Singapore: Offences & Penalties

sad tiger in cage while people exchange money

Singapore’s record in combating illegal wildlife trafficking has long been the subject of criticism by the international conservation community.

Singapore recently proposed some amendments to its laws on illegal wildlife trafficking which signals an intention to increase enforcement efforts in this area. These amendments also seek to curb the use of Singapore as a transit point for illegal trade in endangered species.

This article will provide a general overview of:

What is Illegal Wildlife Trafficking?

Illegal wildlife trafficking refers to the act of bringing specific species of flora or fauna (e.g. endangered species) into or out of a country without a permit. This is an offence under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act (ESA).

The ESA gives effect to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international convention governing trade in endangered species. Examples of such endangered species include: 

  • Monkeys;
  • Pythons;
  • Scorpions
  • Humpback whales;
  • Brush-footed butterflies; and
  • Forty species of cacti

CITES has three appendices that are set out in the schedule of the ESA and which further divide the species based on how endangered they are believed to be:

  1. Appendix I contains species that are in danger of extinction (e.g. Mexican pronghorns);
  2. Appendix II contains other species whose trade are regulated by CITES (e.g. giraffes); and
  3. Appendix III contains species whose trade is regulated by any CITES signatory state (e.g. Indian foxes).

What Authorities in Singapore are Responsible for Enforcing Regulations Against Illegal Wildlife Trafficking?

The National Parks Board (NPB) is the main enforcement agency for illegal wildlife trafficking in Singapore. They issue or deny permits for the import or export of these species. They are also equipped with investigatory and law enforcement powers, including the power to conduct searches and arrests without a warrant.

Police officers with the Singapore Police Force and customs officers with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority are also authorised to exercise these powers. In practice, customs officers would typically be the ones exercising those powers as the ports of entry where they are stationed are the most likely places in which the illegal trade of these species would be discovered.

For example, in April 2022, customs officers found two pythons being smuggled in a lorry coming into Singapore via the Tuas checkpoint. The driver of the lorry was handed over by the officers to the NPB for investigation. 

What are the Penalties For Contravening the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act (ESA)?

Currently, offenders face a maximum jail term of 2 years and/or a fine of up to $50,000 for committing an offence under the ESA.

With the upcoming amendments to the ESA, individual offenders will face higher penalties. The maximum jail term for individuals involved in the illegal wildlife trade will be tripled from 2 years to 6, while the new maximum fine will be increased from $50,000 per species to $100,000 per specimen. If the trafficker is a corporation, it will now face higher fines than individuals.

If You Become Aware of a Potential Case of Illegal Wildlife Trafficking, What Can You Do? 

You are strongly encouraged to report any cases of illegal wildlife trafficking to the NPB for further investigation.

The amendments to the ESA will also introduce safeguards to protect the identity of informers. These will include a mechanism to allow the courts to conceal the identity of informers and to waive the need for an informer to give evidence at trial. This is intended to encourage more individuals to come forward and provide information regarding illegal wildlife trade, which would help facilitate investigations by the NPB.

Moving forward, the amendments to the ESA will better protect wildlife and signal that the Singapore authorities are taking the offence of illegal wildlife trafficking more seriously.

If you have been charged with illegal wildlife trafficking in Singapore, you should seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer.  A criminal lawyer can explain the charges that have been brought against you and explore possible options with regard to your case.

You can find a list of criminal lawyers in Singapore here.

If you have information about suspected illegal wildlife trafficking in Singapore, you can make a confidential report to the NPB by calling them at 1800-476-1600.