New scanning technology may be adopted to combat illegal wildlife trade: Sun Xueling

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
A shipment containing 12.9 tonnes of pangolin scales as well as 177kg of cut up and carved elephant ivory was seized on 3 April, 2019. (PHOTOS: NParks)

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of National Development (MND) will continually review enforcement measures to combat illegal wildlife trade, including the adoption of more effective technologies, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and National Development Sun Xueling.

Noting that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) are currently testing a Multi-Mode Passive Detection System (MMPS) prototype, Sun said on Wednesday (8 May) that the technology may be deployed to detect illegal wildlife traded depending on the outcome of the pilot.

The MMPDS is billed as a safe automated scanning device for people and animals, and can detect unshielded to heavily shielded nuclear and radiological threats. On average, the device can clear a 40-foot shipping container in less than one minute, according to its website.

Additionally, the ministry is open to working with local technology companies to develop new technologies to improve detection capabilities, said Sun.

Currently, enforcement agencies employ technology, such as radiographic scanners and hand-held screening devices by the ICA, to screen and check travellers and goods at Singapore’s checkpoints.

Sun was responding to queries raised by Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng on current efforts to deter and detect the international trade of pangolins in Singapore; whether the ministry can use the MMPDS to detect wildlife products in shipments as well as whether it is exploring the use of other technologies to detect shipments of pangolins.

“Singapore adopts a whole-of-Government and multi-pronged approach to combat illegal wildlife trade, including the trade of pangolins. First, NParks works closely with Singapore Customs (SC) and the ICA to identify cargo for further inspection via tip-offs and a risk assessment framework,” said Sun.

To ensure that the framework remains robust, risk profiles and indicators are reviewed regularly, she added.

“This approach has led to two successful seizures of nearly 26 tonnes of pangolin scales in April,” said Sun.

More than $100 million worth of pangolin scales bound for Vietnam from Nigeria were seized on 3 and 8 April.

The first seizure, one that local authorities described as the biggest single haul globally in recent years, also contained 177kg of cut up and carved elephant ivory with an estimated worth of $120,000.

Previously, Singapore authorities intercepted two shipments of pangolin scales in 2015 and 2016, with an estimated total haul of about 440kg (0.44 tonne).

Singapore also cooperates closely with regional and international counterparts to combat illegal wildlife trade, Sun said.

She, however, stressed that tackling illegal wildlife trade requires the concerted efforts of all stakeholders, including buyers, to reduce demand for such products.

“The NParks conducts public awareness campaigns to discourage people from buying illegal wildlife and wildlife products, including pangolins. Members of the public can also do their part to reduce demand by rejecting these products and encouraging others to do the same,” said Sun.

In a separate written reply by the MND to Ng on Tuesday, the ministry said that the public consultation on the proposed domestic ivory ban was completed in December last year, with 99 per cent of respondents supporting the ban.

The NParks is evaluating the feedback and will announce the details of the ban soon, it added.

Pangolins and elephants are protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), of which Singapore is a signatory.

If convicted of illegal import, export, and re-export of wildlife, an offender can be jailed up to two years or fined a maximum of $500,000, or both. These penalties apply to transit or transshipment of illegal wildlife species, including their parts and derivatives.

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