Straits Times (Singapore)

$18 million worth of ivory to be destroyed; NParks launches new centre to combat illegal wildlife trade

This will be the largest haul destroyed globally since 9.5 tonnes of ivory was crushed in Malaysia in 2016.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, wildlife trafficking is the world’s fourth largest illegal trade after drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting.

South-east Asia is a hotbed for this trade, with Singapore serving as a major transit hub for illegal items.

Singapore is a signatory of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which bans international trade in elephant ivory.

The ivory destroyed on Tuesday comes from various sources and was seized over the years, including 8.8 tonnes – coming from around 300 elephants – that was confiscated after a check from a container on its way from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Vietnam in July last year.

Other sources include an abandoned check-in luggage en route to Cambodia and Laos via Singapore in January 2014, and ivory bracelets and bird cage accessories carried by a Vietnamese traveller in July 2017.

After samples are taken for analysis, the ivory will be pulverised by an industrial rock crusher and then incinerated.

Dr Adrian Loo, Wildlife Management group director at NParks, said that aside from the strong message it sends, crushing the ivory prevents it from re-entering the market and helps reduce demand for it.

The event also takes place in commemoration of World Elephant Day, which is celebrated on Aug 12.

Those who wish to watch the crushing process, which is expected to take about three to five days, may do so here.

Elephant ivory seized from various detectors in recent years. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

NParks will also be launching the Centre for Wildlife Forensics on Tuesday in an effort to boost its detection and diagnostic capabilities in the fight against illegal wildlife trade.

The Centre will tap advanced analysis methods such as next generation sequencing, mass spectrometry and isotope analysis to examine specimen DNA even in heavily processed samples.

Dr Loo said that such methods complement databases already used by international experts and enforcement agencies and will allow Singapore to contribute to the global fight against wildlife trafficking.

The ivory is crushed by a rock-crusher machine at a facility on Aug 11, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

“The data that we get enables international organisations and source countries to investigate and enforce better, it also helps to identify potential links such as syndicates that are operating in (these) countries,” he said.

The Centre will focus its efforts on wildlife most severely impacted by the illegal wildlife trade, such as elephants, rhinoceroses, pangolins, sharks and rays, and songbirds.

It will also tackle illegal timber trade through the establishment of the Singapore Xylarium – a collection of authenticated timber specimens, which will enable researchers to compare and identify their unique characteristics and genetics.

This will enable Singapore to investigate and prosecute those who trade in illegal timber more efficiently.

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, who was at the launch of the centre, said: “The illegal trade in wildlife threatens the survival of endangered species, destroys habitats and disrupts ecosystems around the world. Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance stance on the illegal trade in wildlife.

He added: “All of us can also do our part to help protect elephants and other endangered species by not buying illegal wildlife products, and also discouraging others from doing so.”