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By: Sia Sin Wei

The Singaporean’s Guide to Illegal Wildlife Pets

You may have heard of pet dogs and cats, but have you heard of a pet snake or a pet lizard? For some Singaporeans, such exotic pets are the perfect animal companions. Under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, having wildlife as pets is illegal – apart from a carefully curated group of animals. Unfortunately, despite stern laws on paper and heavy fines, the keeping of exotic animals and their trade is thriving in Singapore, with an increasing number of well-publicised cases over the last few years.

So what makes up Singaporeans’ menagerie of wild exotic pets? We give you the lowdown on them below.

1. Sugar Gliders (Petaurus breviceps)

By The original uploader was Dawson at English Wikipedia. – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26067939

Sugar gliders are the marsupial counterparts to flying squirrels. Just like kangaroos and koalas, they are native to Australia. Most of their diet consists of insects, sap and nectar. Due to their charisma, sugar gliders are popular as pets in the USA and Australia. Despite their popularity, sugar gliders do not thrive in captivity unless their diet is carefully managed and care is taken to enrich their environment. In a recently publicised case, a $4,000 fine was imposed on a 24 year old woman smuggling a baby sugar glider through Woodlands Checkpoint.

2. Hedgehogs (subfamily Erinaceinae)

By Jkasvi (talk · contribs) – Home album., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=447544

Best known for their spiny defences, pet hedgehogs have been increasingly popular over the last few years. The most common pet hedgehog is the four-toed hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) – an African species. While hedgehogs are hardy pets in the hands of competent owners, they need warm temperatures and plenty to space to roam. The average Singaporean would find it hard to satisfy the latter! In another recent case, a man was fined $2,200 for possessing five hedgehogs.

3. Indian Star Tortoise (Geochelone elegans)

By Davidvraju – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50900743

Some people find keeping red eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) too pedestrian, so how about an alternative chelonian companion? Meet the Indian star tortoise – a highly threatened vegetarian tortoise hailing from India with starry patterns on its shell. As they are popular in the exotic pet trade, overcollection has contributed to their population decline in their habitat. As such, their trade is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna or Flora (CITES). This makes them illegal to trade without a given permit – and you won’t be given one just so you can bring home your very own star tortoise! By not keeping one, you can contribute to the conservation of star tortoises so that future generations can enjoy seeing a charismatic tortoise in their natural habitat.

4. Ball Python (Python regius)

By Mokele at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4590431

Another denizen of Africa (south of the Sahara), ball pythons are one of the most popular snakes in the pet trade. When threatened, ball pythons roll themselves into a tight ball to protect their head. Like other pythons, killing its prey (small mammals) via venom is not its thing, but strangling the life out of its prey is. Unlike other pythons, ball pythons are smaller and more docile – great traits for a good pet! Unfortunately, your neighbours might not feel the same way as you do.

5. Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)

By George Chernilevsky – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7609370

The third reptile on our list is the leopard gecko. They are native from Iran to India and feed on insects. Adapted for desert life, leopard geckos are crepuscular which means that they are active at dawn and dusk. Interestingly, one characteristic that separates leopard geckos and their close relatives from other geckos is that they possess eyelids. In other countries, leopard geckos are known for being good for beginners new to keeping herptile pets as they are smaller, hardier and easier to keep compared to other potential pet reptile candidates. On the other hand, care needs to be taken when keeping such exotic animals, such as dietary issues, so that they remain in good health.
While such pets are popular among some people (and cute!), the truth is that most Singaporeans would not know enough about their biology to truly care for them in a competent fashion. Most of the time, this results in poor welfare for the unfortunate critter. While such animals can be rescued by dedicated workers, they may not be fit enough to survive the aftereffects of their captivity or return to the wild.

It is a sobering thought that the animals’ welfare has been compromised even before they reach the buyer. While it is possible to breed exotic pets in captivity, most types of exotic pets are wild-caught. Whether it is catching the animal from the wild, making the animal more “marketable” and transporting the animal to sellers and buyers, the whole supply chain is cruel. By buying an exotic pet, people contribute and encourage a trade that negatively impacts animal welfare and depletes populations of wild animals in their native habitat. Thus, it is important not to keep wild animals as pets especially when other outlets to engage a passion for animals do exist.

How can you help combat the illegal trade of exotic pets? Besides ”disliking” exotic pet-related posts online, in Singapore, you may call the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) at 1800-476-1600 or the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) at 9783-7782 if you have any information on cases of illegal wildlife trade. You may also email ACRES at acrescrime@gmail.com. Let us work together to protect our furry and scaly friends from an illegal market which threatens their welfare!