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  The Straits Times 4 Oct 07
Enforcement officers being trained to spot rare reptiles
Move to tackle illegal wildlife trade passing through Singapore
By Tania Tan

OFFICERS from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority are undergoing a 21/2-day crash course on identifying rare reptiles.

Aimed at putting a crimp on the illegal wildlife trade going through Singapore, the workshop will teach wildlife enforcement officers to recognise the colours and patterns unique to these rare creepy crawlies, the differences between young and adult specimens and even scale shapes.

After the workshop, they should be able to distinguish garden-variety species from rare, endangered ones.

Jointly organised by the Singapore Zoo and Traffic Southeast Asia, the workshop will home in on four main species groups - snakes, turtles and tortoises, lizards and crocodiles.

The black market animal trade has grown over the years, with reptiles being the most heavily traded of all species groups, particularly in South-east Asia, said Dr Mark Auliya, a scientific officer with Traffic Southeast Asia, which is part an international network that monitors the wildlife trade.

The size of the market has not been pinned down, but is estimated at millions of dollars.

Dr Auliya said: 'People get bored with cats or dogs or budgies. They want something more exotic.'

And unusual, rare pets such as Komodo dragons and tomistomas, an endangered type of crocodile found in Malaysia and Indonesia, can cost several thousand US dollars.

An Angola python, for instance - one of the world's rarest - can set one back 10,000 euros (S$20,900).

So besides being exotic, these critters have also become status symbols, said Dr Auliya.

Since 2000, 7,153 live reptiles have been seized while in transit here.

In the same period, more than 10 times that number of already-dead animals were seized while passing through here - that adds up to over 80,000 crocodile, snake and lizard skins, said AVA.

Penalties here are strict for those caught plying the animal trade.

A man was recently jailed five months and fined $20,000 for smuggling a shipment of 2,520 Malayan box turtles, many of which were already dead.

Among the 40 officers now going through the workshop being held at the Singapore Zoo is AVA senior wildlife enforcement officer Lee Fook On.

He said: 'The differences between species can be so small. The workshop gives me a deeper understanding.'

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