Neighbours never knew about animals

SINGAPORE - Some of these animals are dangerous. Some of them are endangered.

And all 32 of them shared a three-room flat in Toa Payoh North near unsuspecting neighbours who had no clue of the danger that lurked a stone's throw away.

The animals were kept by Ong Ming Shiang in the flat that belonged to his grandmother.

Said one neighbour, who is in her 50s and declined to be named: "I thought he was only an avid gardener because of all the plants outside his house."

The neighbour said she had never seen him move animals or carry anything suspicious in and out of the flat.

"How can there be all these animals (in the flat)? Isn't it dangerous? He has two young sons living there," she said in Mandarin.

Ong, 33, has two sons. The elder son is almost two and the younger son is nine months old.

Other neighbours The New Paper spoke to also said they did not hear animal sounds coming from the apartment.

On Thursday, Ong was convicted and fined $41,000. If he defaults, he will be jailed for three months.

In court on Thursday, AVA's prosecuting officer Yap Teck Chuan said that some of the animals could be dangerous to humans if they escaped or were released.

Said Mr Yap: "Some of the animals, particularly the primates and degus, may carry zoonotic diseases such as rabies, which is fatal and can be transmitted to humans."

He asked for a heavy fine to be imposed on Ong to "send a strong message to would-be offenders".

The operation was AVA's largest seizure of illegal wildlife from an individual's home and the biggest inland seizure since 2002, it said last June.

A spokesman for animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research & Education Society said Ong's action of housing that many animals in an HDB flat was "shocking".

Said the spokesman: "It is impossible to meet welfare standards for all these animals in such a space, and it is not only an act of crime against our legislation but also an act of cruelty."

All 32 animals were not indigenous to Singapore and had been imported without permits.

Further investigations revealed that Ong had either "purchased the animals from various sources or were given to him by acquaintances". There was also evidence suggesting that he kept the animals to sell and not just as pets.

His lawyer, Mr Alywin Goh, said in mitigation that Ong "did not take any intentional steps to import, export or sell the exotic animals he kept".

Ong had contravened the Endangered Species Act and the Wild Animals and Birds Act.

He could have been jailed for two years and fined a maximum of $500,000 under the Endangered Species Act. Under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, he could be fined a maximum of $1,000 per charge.

The seized animals have been sent to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore.