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S'pore named 'bird-laundering point'

Publication Date : 19-07-2012


Singapore has been named as a key laundering point for tens of thousands of illegally caught birds from the Solomon Islands, one of the world's major wildlife exporters.

A report released by international wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic on Tuesday pointed to the Republic as the single largest importer of birds from the islands, accounting for 72 per cent.

In the 11 years that Traffic tracked reported figures by country authorities for their bird trade to and from the Solomon Islands, it found that Singapore took in some 49,500 birds, more than half of which were re-exported to other countries.

The problem, says Traffic, is that most of these birds probably came from illegal sources. Even though 80 per cent of the 68,500 birds that were exported from the islands between 2000 and 2010 were declared as bred in captivity, the Solomon Islands authorities have said that the country does not have the capacity to breed these birds in large numbers.

This means the birds were likely to have been caught in the wild and declared as captive-bred.

The birds were mainly parrots and cockatoos, and all were of species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which restricts trade in wild-caught animals but has less stringent rules if they are captive-bred.

The Singapore import and export figures were based on the number of permits issued by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) here, said the report.

Dr Chris Shepherd, Traffic's deputy director for Southeast Asia, said traders could be drawn here because of the Republic's trading efficiency and accessible location.

He said Cites should investigate the Solomon Islands, but importers like Singapore should also check whether it was plausible for countries to export captive-bred birds in such large quantities.

"Declaring exported birds as being captive-bred has all the hallmarks of a scam to get around international trade regulations," said Dr Shepherd.

In 2004, Malaysia, which accounted for 21 per cent of the Solomon Islands' bird exports, stopped all bird trade from the islands because of concerns over the birds' origins. The Republic should follow suit and also scrutinise imports from other countries, he added.

When asked, the AVA said that Cites permits were required from both the importing and exporting countries to import, export or re-export Cites species, whether wild-caught or captive-bred.

It said it verified the Cites permits issued by the exporting countries, and would not issue import permits if the export permits were invalid.

The AVA added that the Cites authority of the exporting country was responsible for certifying the source of the specimens, before the consignment was authorised to be exported.

But the Traffic report also pointed to discrepancies in Singapore's import and export numbers. Between 2000 and 2010, for example, the Republic imported 350 of the threatened white cockatoos from the islands, but re-exported 596 of the birds as being from the islands.

To that, the AVA said that it had updated a stock system that tracks traders' applications for Cites permits to import and re-export birds. The system ensures that the re-export quantity does not exceed the imported quantity.

However, the import and export quantities for each year would not tally as the birds exported were not necessarily those which had been imported in the same year, said the authority.


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