Undercover Investigations

Since 2001, ACRES has conducted regular undercover investigations to determine whether there is an illegal trade in certain wild animal products in Singapore and, if so, what are the levels of trade. Findings have been published in reports, which you can download by following the links below.

Results from these investigations have been passed to the authorities, and as a result there have been nationwide crackdowns on the illegal wildlife trade, with numerous traders and owners of prohibited wild animals and wildlife products have being prosecuted or receiving warning letters.

2001 and 2006 investigations into the illegal bear parts trade

In 2001 and 2006, ACRES, in collaboration with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), embarked on undercover investigations to uncover any illegal trade in bear products (especially bear bile and gall bladders) in Singapore.

These investigations followed revelations by bear farmers in China (1999-2000) that Singapore was one of the markets for bear bile products and gall bladders for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and that they were illegally exporting bear bile products to Singapore.

The trade in bear products results in the inhumane exploitation of bears held in deplorable conditions on bear farms. Wild bears are also being killed for their parts to be used in TCM, pushing endangered species such as the Asiatic black bear closer to extinction.

2006 investigation

We conducted an undercover investigation into the illegal trade in bear products in Singapore for TCM from May until October 2006. A total of 23 TCM shops (20.0% of shops surveyed) were found offering alleged bear products for sale to ACRES investigators (recorded on video).
The products being sold were alleged intact gall bladders, bear bile pills and bear bile powder. Most were not openly displayed.

We presented our findings to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and, as a direct result of the investigation, six shops were fined under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 2006 (ESA) and 17 shops were given warning letters.

Although the trade continues, we are encouraged that the investigation revealed a significant drop in the trade in bear products since the 2001 investigation and, together with the authorities and the TCM industry, ACRES continues to work towards the day when there will be no longer be an illegal trade in bear products in Singapore.

Following this investigation, ACRES is now working closely with the Singapore TCM Organisations Committee (STOC) and the AVA to eradicate the trade in endangered species for TCM in Singapore.

Download the full report “An Investigation into the Illegal Trade in Bear Products in Singapore (2006)” here.

2001 investigation

A previous undercover investigation by ACRES in 2001 revealed that 50 out of 68 TCM shops investigated (or 73.5%) were selling alleged bear products.

As a direct result of this investigation, one shopkeeper and one importer of bear products were prosecuted.

Following this investigation, ACRES made key recommendations and submitted reports on curbing the illegal trade in bear parts to several authorities, including the AVA, the Customs and Excise Department, the Singapore Police Force, Health Sciences Authority and TCM associations. ACRES also held meeting meetings with some of these authorities.

Download the full report “The Trade in Bear Gall Bladder and Bear Bile Products in Singapore (2001)” here.

2003 investigation into the illegal tiger parts trade

A 2003 newspaper article in the Jakarta Post reported that the trade in tiger parts was a lucrative business in Singapore, and that Sumatran tiger bones were “worth thousands” in Singapore according to Mr. Sapto Sakti of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Indonesia. The numerous ports in the province of Riau, Sumatra, were said to act as exit points for smugglers to bring tigers to Singapore. It was also reported that dealers in Singapore were thought to be buying tiger bone and pelts from Sumatra and selling it on elsewhere.

We decided to investigate whether there was any evidence of illegal trading in tiger parts in Singapore. In 2003, ACRES, in collaboration with The New Paper, conducted a series of undercover investigations into the illegal trade in tiger products in Singapore.

The investigations revealed that alleged tiger parts, including tiger bones, tiger paws and tiger penises, were on sale in Traditional Chinese Medicine stores in Chinatown. Three shops were found to be selling alleged tiger parts and video evidence was obtained in each case.

The selling and display of tiger parts has been illegal in Singapore since 1994. At the time of this investigation, the penalties for illegal import or possession of tiger parts were a maximum fine of $5000 and/or jail term of three months. The penalties for violating the domestic ban on selling tiger parts and products were a fine of up to $2000 and/or a jail term of one year.

The products were said to come from Indonesia and, although tiger parts were said to be harder to acquire these days, all shopkeepers said that they could probably obtain more stock if required.

The results of the investigation were published in an article in The New Paper. The video evidence collected was submitted to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

Following this investigation, ACRES is now working closely with the Singapore TCM Organisations Committee (STOC) and the AVA to eradicate the trade in endangered species for TCM in Singapore.

2005 investigation into the illegal reptile trade

In 2005, ACRES embarked on an undercover investigation into the illegal exotic pet trade in Singapore. This followed on from several sightings of prohibited species being openly on sale in pet shops throughout Singapore. We decided to investigate further the extent of this illegal trade and establish which species were being sold illegally and by which shops.

We surveyed a total of 100 randomly-selected pet shops throughout Singapore, recording any instances of illegal animal trading. The results were then passed to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Results of investigation

The results of the survey were startling, with an alarmingly high number of illegal animals found being traded, most quite openly.

One in five pet shops (20%) were found to be selling prohibited animals, in contravention of local laws. In total, 111 animals were recorded on sale illegally, mostly of species which face a high risk of extinction in the wild according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In many cases, the prohibited animals were on sale openly. However, in some cases the animals were hidden away, and shop keepers were caught on film admitting that selling these animals was illegal.

A total of five species of non-native animals were found being illegally sold, in contravention of local laws and international agreement. These were the Chinese softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis), the Chinese stripe-necked turtle (Ocadia sinensis), the pig-nosed turtle(Carettochelys insculpta), the Australian snake-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis) and the Asian yellow pond turtle (Mauremys mutica).

The Chinese stripe-necked turtle is a species not before encountered by ACRES being traded in Singapore. This species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species and faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild but was, however, found openly on sale in many of the shops. The Chinese soft shelled turtle and the pig-nosed turtle similarly face a high risk of extinction in the wild.

The law in Singapore

Most wild animals are prohibited as pets in Singapore. The list of prohibited species includes all reptiles (except the red-eared slider and the Malayan box turtle.) The sale or even display of these prohibited animals is an offence under Singapore law.

Pet shops in possession of prohibited species contravene the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, the Wild Animals and Bird Act and the Birds and Animals Act.

Outcome of investigation

The results of the investigation, including a list of all the shops selling illegal animals and details of how many animals and of what species were being sold at each shop, were presented to the AVA, together with all the undercover footage obtained.

On the 27th of June 2005, officers from the AVA and the ACRES Wildlife Rescue Team raided three pet shops that had been found selling illegal animals. A total of 47 animals were confiscated.

Some shopkeepers claimed ignorance, especially in the case of the Chinese stripe-necked turtle, which they claimed they thought was the red-eared slider (the only reptile allowed to be sold in Singapore at that time). However, this is very hard to believe as the two species look very different. Added to this, all shops were selling the two species at different prices, so they obviously knew they were different!

A press conference was held by ACRES on the 22nd of July to reveal the findings of the investigation. The story received widespread coverage in local newspapers including Today, The Straits Times and LianHe Wan Bao, and was also covered by Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

The current situation

ACRES continues to keep a watch on pet shops, and we are pleased to say that we have not seen the Chinese stripe-necked turtle on sale since the investigation. Hopefully this species has been successfully prevented from entering the illegal pet trade in Singapore as a result of our investigation and subsequent action by the authorities.

Take action!

You can help us to be our eyes and ears. If you see any prohibited animals on sale illegally in pet shops, please call the ACRES Wildlife Crime Hotline on 97837782.

2009/2010 investigation into the illegal tiger parts trade

ACRES undercover investigation results in biggest seizure of alleged tiger parts in Singapore to date, bringing us one step closer to wiping out the illegal trade in tiger parts in Singapore.

Following the latest ACRES undercover investigation into the illegal tiger parts trade and subsequent action by the authorities, the illegal trade in tiger parts here in Singapore could soon be a thing of the past.

From December 2009 to February 2010, undercover investigators from ACRES, posing as buyers, found shockingly large numbers of alleged tiger parts illegally on sale in Singapore, in jewellery shops and antique shops.

A total of 59 shops out of the 134 shops visited offered alleged tiger parts for sale, including approximately 159 alleged tiger claws, 303 alleged tiger teeth and 38 pieces of alleged tiger skin.

The investigation results and video footage obtained were passed to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), who then investigated 161 shops, including the 134 surveyed in the ACRES investigations, and seized a total of 320 pieces of alleged tiger parts from 30 shops. This was the biggest seizure of alleged tiger parts in Singapore to date.

The AVA fined 26 of the shops sums of between S$500 and S$3000. We are delighted that the swift action by the AVA has resulted in bringing those involved in the illegal trading of alleged tiger parts to task.

We are confident that, with the awareness created by the media coverage of the ACRES investigation and with the support of the public in reporting any instances of alleged tiger parts on sale, together we can end the trade in tiger parts in Singapore. ACRES will continue to raise awareness among the public about the illegal wildlife trade, and how they can help to wipe it out. If anyone sees alleged tiger parts on sale, they can call the ACRES Wildlife Crime Hotline on 97837782.

“As long as there is demand, there will be supply. Legislation alone is insufficient to bring a complete halt to the illegal trading of endangered species and their parts. We must do more public education and awareness so demands for them can be curbed and supply will then terminate” said Dr. Lim Wee Kiak, Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC.

Download the full ACRES report “An Investigation into the Illegal Trade in Tiger Parts in Singapore (2010)” here.

Tigers and the illegal tiger parts trade

Tigers are critically endangered. Around a century ago, more than 100,000 tigers roamed the world’s jungles and forests. Today, less than 3,200 remain in the wild. Three subspecies of tiger have become extinct within the last 50 years and, despite the inclusion of Asian big cat species in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the illegal trade in specimens of nearly all these species has escalated and further threatens their long-term survival in the wild.

All commercial tiger trade has been banned since 1987 by CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which Singapore is a party to.

In Singapore, under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act (ESA), it is an offence to import, export and re-export any CITES species without a permit from AVA. The possession, sale, offering or exposing or advertising for sale or displaying to the public of any illegally imported CITES specimen is also an offence. The penalties, on conviction, are a fine of $50,000 (per species), not exceeding an aggregate of $500,000 and/or 2 years imprisonment.

Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) (Prohibition of Sale) Notification, the domestic sale of tiger specimens is prohibited. Any person who sells, offers or exposes for sale or displays to the public any tiger parts and products commits an offence. The offender shall be liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000 for each species (but not to exceed in the aggregate $100,000) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year or to both.

It is important to note that anyone who advertises for sale any tiger parts contravenes the above Act, even if the products turn out to be not authentic. By making a claim that the product is from tigers, the dealer is potentially driving up the demand for tiger parts, which directly contravenes the spirit of CITES and the local legislation meant to enforce CITES.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature(WWF), Singapore has previously been recognised as playing a role in the trade of tiger products from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, for both domestic trade and international re-exports. Indeed, previous investigations by ACRES in 2003 and from 2008-2009 found alleged tiger parts on sale in Traditional Chinese Medicine stores and other locations in Singapore.

Wildlife Crime Hotline

Wiping out the illegal wildlife trade is no small task, and ACRES urges everyone in Singapore to get involved to make this happen.

In 2004, ACRES launched the ACRES Wildlife Crime Hotline (97837782), for people to blow the whistle on anyone illegally trading in or owning prohibited wild animals or wild animal parts in Singapore.

Since its launch, calls to the Hotline have resulted in the rescue of hundreds of animals from the illegal wildlife trade, and countless wildlife traders being brought to task.

Working with the TCM industry

ACRES works with the Traditional Chinese Medicine to eliminate the use of endangered species in TCM and promote the use of herbal alternatives to medicines made from endangered animal parts. Through our joint “ACRES & STOC Endangered Species-Friendly TCM Labelling Scheme” we are encouraging the TCM traders in Singapore to keep illegal endangered species parts off their shelves.

Read more here.

Public awareness

Only once the demand for wildlife products stops will the wildlife trade end. Even with laws in place, there will always be those who flout the law to make money from trading in wild animals and their parts illegally.

Education is therefore key to wiping out the wildlife trade. We need to make people aware of the devastating consequences for animals and the environment should they choose to buy a prohibited wildlife product or keep a wild animal as a pet.

Additionally, we have found that many people have bought wildlife products and exotic animals as pets in Singapore without even knowing that it was against the law. Educating people of the illegality of the wildlife trade is also vital to reduce the trade.

ACRES launched our Wipe Out the Wildlife Trade Before It Wipes Them Out awareness campaign in 2004, to raise public awareness on the wildlife trade through public roadshows, talks, awareness materials, media articles, PSAs, MRT advertisements etc. and the campaign continues to this day. ACRES also raises awareness on the illegal wildlife trade through our various education programmes at the ACRES Wildlife Rescue Centre (AWRC).

Read more about the Wipe Out the Wildlife Trade Before It Wipes Them Out campaign here.

Putting a stop to poaching

ACRES responds to reports from members of the public regarding poaching of wild animals. We inform the police and the AVA (Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority) , investigate the reports ourselves and pass on all evidence to the police and the AVA for further investigation.

We also conduct regular anti-poaching patrols in the Sungei Tengah area, looking out for any signs of poaching activity.

Most importantly, we conduct training workshops to teach members of the public how to identify and report poaching activity, building up a network of individuals all over Singapore who will be on the lookout for illegal poaching and ready to report it to the relevant authorities.