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Apply for a native animal keeper licence
She keeps them in plastic boxes on top of her bedroom cabinet, away from her mother. Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has ranked Singapore among the world's top 10 wildlife smuggling hubs. Traders exploit the Republic's efficient transport links and strategic geographical location to fuel the desire for exotic pets in the region. This is in spite of the country being a signatory to Cites - an international agreement signed in to ensure that trade does not threaten wildlife species with extinction.
What's more, exotic pet ownership among Singaporeans means the Republic is more than just a conduit for illegal exotic animals, say wildlife activists. Last year, Acres handled wildlife trade cases, including those involving live animals and animal parts.
It also receives two to three illegal exotic pet-related calls per week. In cases where exotic pets are abandoned, the non-profit group houses them at its Wildlife Rescue Centre before repatriating them to their countries of origin. The numbers are probably staggering. Sneaked across the Causeway last year, Tako the hedgehog was a surprise gift for year-old barista Jo, who keeps the eight-month-old creature in her HDB flat.
Then, I went overseas and came back, and my friend was like, 'I bought you one'," she says. Experts note that people are motivated to own the animals by a variety of psychological factors. These include the prestige factor, or the desire to be different, says Dr Michael Gumert, a psychology professor at Nanyang Technological University. They want something cool. This resonates with owners such as Dut, 41, who has been keeping exotic pets for the past 15 years.
It is because they don't like the mainstream," notes the graphic designer, who owns two bearded dragons and a black tarantula from Brazil.
Apply for a native animal keeper licence | NSW Environment, Energy and Science
The welfare of exotic pets in captivity is a concern that the authorities and animal rights groups share. According to the AVA, exotic pets are likely to be subjected to "unsuitable living conditions, poor diet and pet owners' lack of knowledge of proper care". Acres founder and Member of Parliament Louis Ng agrees.
But Nina insists: "Reptiles die easily because of irresponsible people. You have to be disciplined as an owner.
However, the AVA points out on its website that there is the risk that exotic pets might sneak out and traumatise neighbours. Indeed, a metre-long ball python owned by Li, who is in his 60s, escaped. According to Moses, the year-old owner of three snakes and a baby caiman, ball pythons are "escape artists". Just three years ago, his juvenile pastel ball python, which he had kept in a plastic box, slithered out of his flat. Residents in his estate say they are wary of such pets.
One said she would be concerned if her neighbour owned a pet snake that might threaten her daughter's well-being.
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But Nina's year-old neighbour has no qualms about visiting Fatty. The secondary school student says: "Reptiles are cool.
Acres thinks it is. Some say more could be done to enforce the ban. They claim that the AVA does not prioritise clamping down on the illegal pet industry. Traffic South-east Asia's regional director Chris Shepherd, meanwhile, says the local authorities "have been doing a lot more than other countries in the region, but still could do more".
When it comes to enforcement, the AVA works with Acres to conduct raids in illegal wildlife cases, especially after receiving tip-offs. During raids, AVA officers can also seize laptops and mobile phones belonging to those suspected of operating large-scale illegal wildlife businesses. In , Acres called for harsher reprisals against a man who illegally kept 32 wild animals. A year later, Acres also proposed tackling the trade by using sniffer dogs at border checkpoints, but the AVA said it was less cost-effective than existing methods like routine or random checks.
Mr Bernard Harrison, who was executive director of the Singapore Zoo for nearly two decades, says the authorities could do better: "If they felt it was important, they would. Addressing the problem will take more than just a change in mentality, though. Mr Ng says the AVA's wildlife section does not send a "very strong deterrent message to would-be offenders or traders" because it has insufficient resources. Despite the argument against keeping exotic pets, however, some experts feel that it is time to review the current wide-ranging ban.
Dr Fred Chua, a veterinarian who has treated exotic pets for more than a decade, wants exceptions for certain animals like Indian star tortoises.