SINGAPORE — Instead of using the fish farm leased from the National Parks Board (NParks) for its intended purposes, an aquarium business owner decided to illegally house 69 protected wildlife creatures.
When confronted by NParks officers about his unlawful behaviour, 38-year-old Mohamed Arshad Mohamed Ayob lied repeatedly, locked himself inside a room, and smashed his phone.
He was jailed for eight weeks on Tuesday (6 February) after pleading guilty to multiple charges under the Wildlife Act for keeping wildlife without approval and hindering NParks officers. Another 45 charges were also taken into consideration.
It is the largest number of illicit wildlife found kept by an offender in Singapore, and included geckos, snakes, and a skink.
CNA reported that Arshad had kept the animals at Sing Arowana at Neo Tiew Crescent after getting permission from the farm manager to use a segment of the farm for his business, Tank Movers Aquatic Services, to rear and retail aquarium fish and related products.
Arshad paid $3,000 monthly for the segment of the farm he used, which was fenced and locked up. He was the only one who could access the area.
Lied when the police came looking for him
NParks was informed that there might be wildlife kept illegally on the premises, and officers paid a visit on 10 November 2022. The closed-circuit television footage showed Arshad closing the gate after the officers had reached the farm.
The officers asked the fish farm manager to call Arshad for the combination number for the gate lock, but Arshad told them he was not at the farm and was out driving to do deliveries. He said that he would share the combination with the manager when it was safer.
After the NParks officers got the fish farm manager to cut the fence surrounding the area with a wire cutter, they saw Arshad’s car parked on the premises, CNA reported.
Amongst the animals found behind the fence were 42 leopard geckos, two California King snakes, two sugar gliders, three bearded dragons, an Irian Jaya blue tongued skink and South American horned frogs.
Some of the live animals found were also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, of which Singapore is a signatory.
The officers also found a locked sliding door and knocked on it multiple times, but no one responded. After they managed to open the door, they found Arshad lying down on a sofa inside, as well as an enclosure with two animals.
When questioned about why he didn’t open the door, Arshad claimed that he had been sleeping and didn’t hear the officers knocking. He also said that the CCTV system on the site was not working when asked.
Officers proceeded to seize all 69 of the live animals found, a CCTV console and Arshad’s mobile phone that had a damaged screen, which he claimed had been run over by a car.
Flew into a state of panic
During investigations, Arshad’s lies unravelled, including the fact that he had deliberately damaged his phone by smashing it against a table while he was in the locked room and that the CCTV system was perfectly functional.
Other than closing and locking the gate after the NParks officers arrived, he hid dubia roaches used to feed reptiles and scooped out turtles into a small container, CNA reported.
Defence lawyer SS Dhillon said his client had been caught by surprise when the NParks officers arrived and “flew into a state of panic”. He then smashed his phone “in a state of frenzy as he was getting increasingly panicked from the phone calls that he was receiving”.
The terrapin and turtles that were found on the premises were given to Arshad by a customer when he had made a tank delivery, said Dhillon, and Arshad had taken them “out of goodwill” to care for them.
Dhillon also said that there was no evidence of import, intended export or sale by his client.
For each charge of intentionally keeping wildlife without approval, Arshad could have been jailed for up to six months, fined up to $10,000, or both.
A 42-year-old man had previously been fined $4,700 for keeping venomous exotic snakes, rare turtles, and a giant black scorpion in 2017. There were also 18 cases prosecuted for the illegal trade of endangered species between 2017 and 2021 in Singapore.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.