In Singapore, two men including wildlife volunteer fined for keeping illegal exotic pets in their Yishun flats

A sugar glider in flight. ― Simon Stone/Wilderness Society via TODAY
A sugar glider in flight. ― Simon Stone/Wilderness Society via TODAY

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SINGAPORE, July 22 — Two men who illegally kept exotic animals as pets and paid to smuggle yet more creatures across the Causeway were fined in court yesterday (July 21).

Nonis Randy Amin Nonis Amran, a self-professed animal lover and volunteer with the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), was fined a total of S$8,000 (RM24,801).

The 31-year-old had kept two central bearded dragons and a green iguana in his flat, and abetted the importation of an Argentine black-and-white tegu into Singapore via Woodlands Checkpoint.

These are all species of lizards. The tegu and iguana are endangered and listed under the schedule of the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act.

Nonis, a Singaporean, was also ordered to pay S$900 to the National Parks Board (NParks) for expenses related to housing the prohibited animals.

The other man, Freddy Yeo Chong Wei, 39, also a Singaporean, was fined S$1,000 for having a sugar glider — a small marsupial native to Australia.

Both men kept the animals in their respective flats along Yishun Ring Road.

Yeo already had one sugar glider and was buying a second from a Singaporean man, who co-owned a store in Johor Baru, Malaysia. Nonis bought the tegu from the same man but he was nabbed at Woodlands Checkpoint while taking them into Singapore.

What happened

The court heard that in November 2019, Nonis wanted to get another lizard as he had a spare tank in his residence. After searching on Facebook, he found the pages of several exotic pet shops in Malaysia.

He sent a message to the Exotics Hub store in Johor Baru, asking for an Argentine tegu and if it could be delivered to Singapore.

A representative responded to say that it could and asked for a 50 per cent deposit. The reptile cost S$600 with an added transportation fee of S$100.

On November 7, Nonis transferred a deposit of S$300 to a mobile number belonging to the store’s co-owner Mitchell Edberg Li Heyi.

Li took orders from Singapore customers, collected the animals from suppliers in Malaysia and smuggled them across the Causeway.

He then asked if Nonis could collect the tegu on the same day, but Nonis did not reply in time and Li said that he could deliver the animal only on the evening of November 9.

That day, Li told Nonis that there would be a delay and that the reptile would be delivered at 3am the next day instead.

However, Li was nabbed by an immigration officer when he tried to drive through Woodlands Checkpoint.

He had placed the animals in individual plastic containers, then placed the tegu in a breakfast cereal box. He then kept all of the animals there for at least five hours.

Last year, he was jailed for two months and fined S$9,600 for importing 22 illegal animals — including the tegu, sugar glider and several poison dart frogs — into Singapore. The frogs were also meant to be kept as pets.

Three days after Li was caught, NParks enforcement officers inspected Nonis’ residence and found the bearded dragons and iguana in his bedroom. He admitted to buying them for his personal exotic collection.

The officers seized the three animals from him.

As for Yeo, he ordered two sugar gliders from Li for S$180 after browsing an online forum and paid half that amount as a deposit. Li managed to procure only one of the creatures.

When NParks officers inspected Yeo’s place after Li was caught, they realised Yeo already had one sugar glider. He admitted to buying it from a seller on e-marketplace Carousell in 2017.

‘Animals were like family’

Nonis’ lawyer, Timothy Tang, told the court in mitigation that the “whole saga happened because my client is an animal lover, especially in relation to reptiles”.

He had taken care of the animals “as though they were family” and co-operated with the authorities. He also channelled this love into volunteering with Acres and being “almost a friend of NParks”, posting videos on social media about Singapore’s native wildlife, the lawyer said.

He was unlikely to reoffend due to all these factors, Tang added in seeking a lower fine of S$6,000.

Wendy Tan from NParks, who prosecuted both cases, argued that Nonis should have known better as an Acres volunteer. He had taken up the role as early as April 2019 but still ordered an illegal wild animal six months later, she noted.

A simple search of the Acres website would have unearthed articles about enforcement against the illegal wildlife trade, Tan added.

She told the court: “Buyers of these animals indirectly support the trade by creating demand. This has to be stopped If he’s so interested in taking care of animals, he could have done so at Acres but he ordered them to keep as personal pets.”

Nonis and Yeo could have been fined up to S$1,000 for keeping a wild animal.

The maximum penalty was recently increased to a S$10,000 fine and six months’ jail after the Wild Animals and Birds Act was amended. It is now known as the Wildlife Act.

Nonis could also have been fined up to S$50,000 and jailed for up to two years for keeping an endangered animal and abetting the importation of a scheduled species. ― TODAY

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