Today, the National Parks Board (NParks) opened Singapore’s first Centre for Wildlife Forensics (CWF). The Centre will strengthen NParks’ detection and diagnostic capabilities by drawing upon expertise across NParks to identify and analyse specimens involved in the illegal wildlife trade. A new K9 Unit that will help to uncover illegal wildlife and wildlife products at our borders was also introduced. These new initiatives will strengthen Singapore’s contributions towards the global fight against illegal wildlife trade.
New Centre for Wildlife Forensics
The Centre for Wildlife Forensics will leverage science and technology to enhance NParks’ testing capabilities in order to accurately identify the species seized. These enhanced capabilities will also provide deeper insights on the seized items, such as their geographical origins.
Such information can help international organisations and source countries to undertake further investigation and enforcement action against poachers and smugglers. These capabilities will also enable NParks, through collaborations with international experts and organisations, to better analyse seizures globally. This will enable us to identify potential linkages and syndicates involved in the illegal trade in wildlife.
With these capabilities, the Centre will enhance Singapore’s efforts as a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), augment our enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, and contribute to the global fight against illegal wildlife trade. CITES ensures that the international trade in wildlife is carried out in a way that does not threaten their survival.
The CWF builds on the work of NParks’ Centre for Animal and Veterinary Sciences and the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ Herbarium to identify and analyse wildlife and wildlife products and produce evidence to support law enforcement and prosecution.
New K9 Unit to detect wildlife and wildlife products
NParks introduced its new K9 Unit to further enhance Singapore’s capabilities to combat the illegal trade in wildlife. This unit will enhance detection capabilities for wildlife and wildlife products at Singapore’s border checkpoints and enable NParks to strengthen its enforcement against the illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife products through our borders.
This is the first time that Singapore is deploying detector dogs to sniff out wildlife and wildlife products. The NParks K9 unit has been specially trained to detect commonly trafficked wildlife and wildlife products, such as elephant ivory and pangolin scales.
Studies on ivory and pangolin scale seizures
Apart from investigation, enforcement and prosecution, there are two ongoing studies that the Centre for Wildlife Forensics is working with international partners on. Both studies are being done in collaboration with conservation biologist, Professor Samuel K Wasser, from the University of Washington.
The first study analyses the genetic linkages between ivory seizures made globally from 1995 to 2019. The elephant tusks are genetically matched to identify samples from the same elephant or from its close relatives in the same herd. These matches could reveal links between parent and offspring, or between siblings, found in different shipments.
Such information will enable wildlife law enforcers to gain a deeper understanding of the criminal networks and their modus operandi in source countries. This can be done by combining evidence from separate investigations, including those carried out in different countries where seizures are made. This will enable law enforcement agencies to strengthen their prosecution efforts to counter wildlife trafficking.
The second study looks at developing and validating sampling protocols that will aid in the analyses of large volumes of pangolins or pangolin parts. It aims to establish a comprehensive panel of DNA markers for all eight pangolin species, to create a pangolin genetic reference map. This map can then be used to identify familial relationships between pangolins in and across different seizures and determine the origins of pangolins and pangolin parts. In turn, this will reveal insights on the dynamics and networks of organised pangolin poaching and trafficking.
When the results of these studies are ready, NParks and its collaborators will share them with international partners in the source and destination countries for these CITES-listed species. This will enable them to strengthen their enforcement efforts against the criminal syndicates and networks that are involved in the illegal trade in wildlife.
Upcoming Domestic Ban on Ivory Trade
In 2019, Singapore announced that a ban on the domestic trade in elephant ivory will come into effect on 1 September 2021. With this ban, the sale of elephant ivory and ivory products, and the public display of elephant ivory and ivory products for the purpose of sale will be prohibited in Singapore. This nationwide ban highlights Singapore’s resolve in the fight against the illegal trade in species listed under CITES.
When the ban comes into effect, those found to have offered elephant ivory or ivory products for sale, or for public display for the purpose of sale, may be charged under the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act. This carries a penalty of a fine of up to $10,000 per specimen, not exceeding $100,000 in total and/or up to 12 months’ imprisonment upon conviction.
As Singapore moves towards becoming a City in Nature – a key pillar of the Singapore Green Plan 2030, which is a national movement to chart our course for sustainable development – these new developments will also help to strengthen Singapore’s conservation of our native biodiversity in our nature reserves and parks.