Wildlife lover who imported 6 Poison Dart frogs without permit fined $6,600

Two of the Poison Dart frogs seized (Photo: NParks)

SINGAPORE — An owner of a wildlife habitat-scoping service was fined $6,600 on Wednesday (1 April) for importing six Poison Dart frogs from Johor Bahru into Singapore without permit. 

Jonathan Wong Kai Kit, 32, had ordered 13 such frogs – brightly-coloured frogs which produces toxin in its body and are native to tropical Central and South America – and made arrangements for a co-accused, Mitchell Edberg Li Heyi, to deliver the frogs to him on 10 November last year. 

Li, however, was caught as he attempted to enter Woodlands Checkpoint in his car. Apart from 18 Poison Dart frogs of three different species, he was also found with two Leopard Geckos, 1 sugar glider, and an Argentine Tegu, which is a small type of lizard. 

Poison Dart frogs and the Argentine Tegu are listed as endangered and require a permit to be issued before they can be imported into Singapore. Neither Li nor Wong had the required permits to import the animals in. 

In the State Courts on Tuesday, Li pleaded guilty to instigating Li to import six live Poison Dart frogs to Singapore without a permit issued by the director-general of Wildlife Trade Control, with another two charges of nature taken into consideration for sentencing. 

Intrigued by the species during research

Wong owns a firm which creates suitable natural habitants or environments for pets and animals, using man-made materials. 

According to his lawyer Tania Chin, he became interested in amphibians when he bought a few white tree frogs from a local aquarium shop in 2016. 

“The white tree frogs rekindled his passion for wildlife and he started exploring creating naturalistic environments for animals and pets,” she said. “He was inspired by the disappointment he felt each time he visited local pet shops and observed pet owners keeping animals in bare tanks and enclosures that were not suitable habitats for them.”

Wong chanced upon the Poison Dart frog while researching for more information on animal habitats, and was intrigued by the species.

He first met Li a few months before November last year while looking for roaches to feed his fish. He chanced upon Li again during a Johor Bahru trip with his girlfriend, and Li told him about a pet carnival which sold the frogs. 

“Upon seeing them, he fell in love with frogs and bought them impulsively. (Li) agreed to send to (Wong the frogs) later in the day,” said Chin. 

Wong pre-ordered five Poison Dart frogs from Li and paid him the full amount of fees, including transportation. 

He also ordered an additional eight Poison Dart frogs and paid RM3,050 (S$999.64) to an owner of a pet shop in Kuala Lumpur. 

Since Li was assisting Wong to bring the five frogs into Singapore, Wong asked him to bring the eight additional frogs for him as well. 

Li agreed, on the condition that Wong would pay him a $30 transport fee for each animal. Wong paid him $100 and agreed to pay the remaining $140 after the frogs were delivered to Singapore. 

Did not know that the frogs were an endangered species

According to Chin, Wong had not known that the Poison Dart frogs were an endangered species. 

“Nowhere in his research into frogs did he come across information or articles suggesting or clearly stating that these dart frogs were an endangered species,” Chin told the court, adding that he bought the frogs as pets and for his research thesis.  

Considering that the value of frogs was low – at about $100 per frog – Chin asked for a fine of $1,000 as Wong had learned his lesson and was unlikely to reoffend. 

NParks Prosecutor Wendy Tan, however, sought a fine of $7,200, pointing out that the species was endangered and that there was a need to deter illegal smuggling of protected species. 

“These type of offences are difficult to detect and (the animals are) easily hidden in luggage or vehicles, and the detection depends on the alertness of staff and volume of traffic,” said the prosecutor. 

The district judge noted that Wong was a first offender and that there was no evidence that he was part of a syndicate. He placed on weight on the fact that Wong ran a terrarium business or that the importation of the frogs was related to his firm. 

While a $1,000 fine was too low, the prosecution’s sentence was on the high side, said the judge, who pointed out that it was not wrong for NParks to submit for a deterrent sentence. 

Li’s case is still pending before the courts.

For importing a scheduled species without a permit, Wong could have been jailed up to two years or fined up to $50,000 for each such scheduled species, or both.

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