Campaigning for Better Wildlife Protection Laws in Singapore

Campaign introduction

The Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act is Singapore’s national legislation that gives effect to CITES ( the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to control import and export of endangered species in Singapore.

Anyone found trafficking, trading in or possessing CITES-listed species without permits can be prosecuted under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act.

For many years, ACRES raised concerns over loopholes in the previous 2005 Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act.

Our main concern was that under the existing Act, penalties for offenders were allocated on a per species basis. This meant that even if a trader illegally trafficked or traded in thousands of animals or animal parts of one prohibited species, he or she would only be fined once for that one species, and not for every animal/animal part. This of course encouraged the trafficking or trading of large number of animals or animal parts at a time, as even if the trader was caught he would face a maximum fine of $5000 and/or a one year jail term. If he did not get caught, he would have a large number of animals/animal parts to sell, so the benefits of getting away with smuggling or trading in the animals/animal parts outweighed the risk of getting caught.

ACRES also felt that the penalties under the existing Act (a maximum $5,000 fine and/or a one year jail term) were not sufficient to deter people from engaging in the highly lucrative business of trafficking and trading in wild animals.

In a letter sent in September 2005 to the Minister of National Development, who oversees animal protection in Singapore, ACRES wrote: “Based on our experience over the past years, we urgently request that the Ministry of National Development amend the Endangered Species Act as it is clear that the current penalties do not act as a deterrent against the trafficking of protected species. ACRES believes that the main loophole in this Act is that it is based on a per species basis. As such, all a trafficker has to do is traffic only one species at a time and the penalties would be minimal. ACRES proposes to amend this Act to a per animal basis and, for wildlife parts, a per kilogram basis.” We further wrote that: “Interpol estimates worldwide trade in contraband wildlife at five to seven billion U.S. dollars annually, second only to drug trafficking. Wildlife trafficking is an extremely serious crime affecting the international community. Enforcement of legislation governing this trade should be parallel to how Singapore treats drug smuggling.”


After years of campaigning by ACRES, in 2006 the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act was repealed and re-enacted to update and streamline the Act and align it with CITES requirements.

The Endangered Species (Import and Export) Bill was passed in Parliament in January 2006 and came into effect in March 2006.

The main loophole of the existing Act (i.e. that penalties were handed out on a per species basis) was removed, as under the amended Act the penalties are now applicable for each individual CITES-protected animal or plant, or part thereof, involved in the offence.

The updated Act also strengthens deterrence and enforcement against the illegal wildlife trade in the following ways:

  • Strengthens the Agri-Food and Veterinary’s (AVA’s) enforcement powers.
  • Raises the maximum level of penalties.
  • Treats fake products as if they were genuine.

The Act now empowers the AVA to investigate illegal transhipment or transit cases and search, inspect, detain, seize or confiscate any illegal CITES-protected species.

The maximum penalty for illegal trafficking of endangered species has been increased from $5,000 and/or a one year jail term, to $50,000 and/or two years’ imprisonment. The fine is applicable to each CITES-protected animal or plant, or part thereof, involved in the offence, up to an aggregate maximum of $500,000.

In line with CITES recommendations, the Act now allows AVA to take appropriate enforcement actions based on the markings, labels or claims that a product contains a part or derivative of a CITES species, without having to prove that this part or derivative is actually present in the product.

For abetment and attempted offences, the Act now imposes the same penalty as the main offence. This is in line with the Criminal Procedure Code, where abetment and attempt to commit an offence carries the same penalty as the offence itself.

ACRES congratulates the Singapore government for making these amendments. These changes to the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act will undoubtedly serve as a stronger deterrence to wildlife smugglers and traders.

However, ACRES is still concerned about certain aspects in the Act. Our main concern is that the fine is capped at a maximum of $500,000. Again, this means that traders will benefit from trafficking/selling animals in large numbers. If they can only be fined up to a maximum of $500,000 (i.e. for the first ten animals), then if they decide to continue trafficking/selling illegal animals it is in their best interests to smuggle/trade as many as possible in one go in the hope that they will not get caught.

In the future, we would like to see this cap removed, so that traders will be subject to unlimited fines.

We would like to express our deepest appreciation to Dr. Amy Khor, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, and to Dr. Geh Min, Nominated Member of Parliament, for raising the issues of the illegal wildlife trade and the loopholes in the existing Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act in Parliament.

We also thank the AVA and the Ministry of National Development for responding positively to our concerns.