Man who smuggled 22 live animals hidden in groceries across border jailed, fined

Photo of an Argentine Black and White Tegu concealed inside Milo cereal box. (Photo: NParks)

SINGAPORE — A man who smuggled exotic animals to buyers in Singapore was apprehended in November last year after an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer found 22 live animals hidden within food packaging. 

Singaporean Mitchell Edberg Li Heyi, 31, was sentenced to two months’ jail and fined $9,600 on Thursday (4 June). He was also ordered to pay $10,900 to National Parks Board as expenses for housing the endangered animals.

As Li is unable to pay any sum of money, he will have to serve an additional six weeks of jail. 

Concealed among groceries in car boot

On 10 November last year, an ICA officer at Woodlands Checkpoint found the animals concealed among groceries in the boot of Li’s car. 

A total of 18 poisonous frogs were placed in separate plastic containers in a sealed biscuit tin, while a sugar glider (a species of tiny marsupials) placed in a plastic container was also kept in a biscuit tin. Another two leopard geckos placed in separate plastic containers were kept in a sealed biscuit tin while an Argentine black and white tegu (a species of lizards) was kept in a Milo breakfast cereal box.

Groceries which concealed wildlife animals placed in the trunk of Li's car on 10 November 2019. (Photo: NParks)

All the animals were kept in their containers for at least five hours and none were licensed. All 18 poisonous frogs eventually died.

Li co-owned an exotic animal business in Johor Bahru and would smuggle exotic animals across the border from Malaysia. 

Some of the live animals found in Li's car on 10 November 2019. (Photo: NParks)

He pleaded guilty to five charges of failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the animals were conveyed in a manner that did not subject it to unnecessary suffering; one charge of importing the frogs, a scheduled species without a permit issued by the Director- General of Wildlife Trade Control; and one charge of importing the gecko without a licence issued by the Director-General of Animal Health and Welfare.

Another 23 charges of a similar nature were taken into consideration for sentencing, including one where Li kept a California Kingsnake as a pet in his home without a license from the Director-General of Wildlife Management.

From left: The California Kingsnake kept at Li's home, and the poisonous frog he transported. (Photo: Nparks)

Smuggle in for customers

Another man, Jonathan Wong Kai Kit, had ordered five live poison dart frogs from Li and requested him to transport it into Singapore.

He paid the full amount for the frogs to Li, and had also asked Li to transport another eight live poison dart frogs from another supplier into Singapore for him. 

Wong was fined $6,600 for his involvement in the incident. 

Another man had ordered the Argentine Black and White Tegu from Li’s business sometime in November last year for $600, with an additional transportation fee of $100.

The man paid a deposit to Li and was informed that the animal would be delivered to him on 10 November last year, at his residence. 

From left: Animals concealed in a biscuit tin, the sugar glider smuggled by Li. (Photo: NParks)

The two sugar gliders were ordered by another customer for $180. This customer had contacted Li on 8 November last year and paid a deposit. Li informed the customer that the animals would be delivered to him the following week. 

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