A taxi passenger who tried to smuggle three songbirds into Singapore in cramped conditions was jailed for three months yesterday.
Jalal Basiron Samad, 47, hid two red-whiskered bulbuls in PVC tubes and wrapped a third tightly inside a stapled piece of paper.
The Singaporean tried to smuggle them in from Malaysia through the Woodlands Checkpoint in a taxi which he shared with five other passengers.
But during a routine inspection, officers found the live birds in his haversack underneath the front passenger seat.
The Straits Times understands some bulbuls can fetch up to several thousand dollars each if they have won bird-singing contests.
Jalal, a concrete-mixer driver, pleaded guilty to importing the birds into Singapore without a licence and failing to take steps to ensure that they were not subject to poor and cramped conditions.
The Singaporean had gone to Larkin, Johor, on March 4 and bought the birds from a man named Rashid for RM1,000 (S$331). The birds are sold more cheaply there.
Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) prosecutor Yap Teck Chuan called for a sentence of three months in jail to be imposed on each charge.
He said illegal importation carries the risk of introducing deadly diseases such as bird flu into Singapore.
To date, Singapore has been one of the few countries in the region to remain free from bird flu. As of April 4, the World Health Organisation has recorded 850 human cases of bird flu with 499 fatalities.
Mr Yap had argued that stiffer sentences were necessary to deter and stem such offences.
He said: "The efforts of AVA and other authorities in regulating importation and enforcing quarantine measures in order to ensure the safety of Singaporeans will be futile if offenders continue to import animals and birds from dubious sources through illegal means."
The problem is compounded as such offences are very hard to detect given the amount of traffic across the Causeway every day.
Jalal said in mitigation that he was his family's sole breadwinner. He has four school-going children and elderly parents to support.
He could have been fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to 12 months for each offence.