- Singapore’s live bird trade is thriving on Facebook, where it is largely unlicensed, according to a new report from wildlife watchdog group TRAFFIC, which tracked 44 Singapore-based Facebook groups over five months.
- Researchers found hundreds of online sellers, most of them unlicensed and therefore acting illegally, and thousands of birds offered for sale, some of them smuggled from abroad or poached locally.
- Singapore’s efforts to target the illicit wildlife pet trade have so far focused on monitoring and enforcement actions at the trader level instead of imposing licensing requirements at the consumer level, the researchers said.
- They recommend implementing a compulsory wildlife-pet registration system, under which owners must prove they obtained their wildlife pets from licensed sources.
Singapore’s live bird trade is thriving on Facebook largely unlicensed, according to a new report from watchdog group TRAFFIC, which notes the persistence of the illicit pet trade despite clampdowns by local authorities and calls for a compulsory wildlife-pet registration system.
Researchers tracked 44 Singapore-based Facebook groups selling wildlife between December 2018 and April 2019, and counted 662 unique traders, most of them unlicensed and therefore acting illegally. They recorded 3,354 live animals for sale, 99% of them birds. Some of these birds had been smuggled from abroad or poached locally, they found.
Although 13 of these groups were shut down by Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) and Facebook, five have resurfaced as of April 2021, the report said.
“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 researchers wrote.
Singapore’s efforts to target the illicit wildlife pet trade have so far focused on monitoring and enforcement actions at the trader level instead of imposing licensing requirements at the consumer level, the report said.
Pet shops, breeders and importers must be licensed to sell wildlife, which must come from legal sources, and which is mostly limited to birds and a small number of reptile and mammal species.
In contrast, owners of wildlife pets do not require any registration to buy and keep them, so “there is no means to prove that owners obtained their wildlife pets from licensed pet shops,” the researchers wrote, a factor in the thriving online illegal trade.
“Implementing a system that requires owners to register wildlife pets will increase owner accountability and allow tracking of the bird trade from both the seller and consumer end of the trade chain,” report co-author and TRAFFIC program officer Serene Chng said in a statement.
Most of the birds offered online were not native species, the report noted. More than half of the 91 bird species recorded for sale are listed in global wildlife trade authority CITES’ appendices, which means they would have required documentation to be legally imported and traded, it said.
In some instances, such documentation appeared to be lacking. Traders have hinted at their ability to smuggle birds from neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Thailand, from where avian wildlife imports are prohibited to minimize influenza transmission, the report said. Sellers would post about their travels to these countries, taking pictures of birds sold there and asking fellow group members in Singapore to indicate interest.
Screenshots also show people poaching wild birds locally for sale. One post described setting up a trap for the oriental magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis), a native songbird that is threatened in Singapore.
“The unregulated bird trade not only depletes wild populations but also poses risks of establishing invasive species and avian disease transmission,” TRAFFIC said in its statement.
Adrian Loo, group director of wildlife management at NParks, said in response to the report that the government works with partner agencies to conduct checks at border checkpoints, regulate and monitor physical and online marketplaces, and carry out surveillance for poaching activities.
“We will continue to explore various options to detect and deal with illegal activities involving birds,” he said.
Banner image: A collection of screenshots from Facebook posts about illegal bird trade. Image courtesy of TRAFFIC.
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