'I'm on a mission'
Investigator with animal welfare group says that though her job can be dangerous, there is no room for fear
Miss Noelle Seet is a full-time undercover investigator.
But instead of busting drug or prostitution rings, the job of the 35-year-old is to uncover wrongdoings related to animal welfare.
Miss Seet, who is with animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), went undercover between March and last month to ferret out the alleged sale of tiger body parts at 153 jewellery and antique shops in Singapore.
The body parts were seized after Acres presented their findings to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore. (See report on right.)
Miss Seet, who has been in this line for the past year, admitted that the first few operations she took part in were a little nerve-racking.
For instance, she had to pose as an interested customer and ask the shops about such details as prices. She was unsure if her cover would be blown or if she could gain the trust of the person she had to deal with.
"Although I was the one who was going round to expose people involved in these wrongdoings, I felt like I was the one doing something improper," she told The New Paper on Wednesday.
"After a while, I learnt that I'm on a mission and there's no room for fear," she added.
There are risks, especially when the mission involves exposing crime syndicates who profit from the sale of wildlife, she said.
She fears being targeted by these groups in reprisal for undermining their operations.
She would not reveal details, but said there are elaborate safety measures taken to counter such risks.
To ensure their safety, Acres investigators also undergo about two to three weeks of training before going undercover. The training is conducted by psychologists and private investigators.
Investigators have to possess certain qualities, including the ability to keep calm and composed in tense situations, in order to be selected for the job.
They have to be able to manage their emotions well, too, said Miss Seet.
"It is important that as investigators, we don't let our feelings control us. But this can sometimes be a challenge, especially when we are presented with so many acts of cruelty against animals."
Indeed, she is particularly perturbed by the conditions in which animals are smuggled.
Miss Seet said that the investigators at Acres are all passionate about improving animal welfare.
And that was the reason she took up the job in the first place.Despite her passion for effecting change, Miss Seet has also learnt to manage her expectations and has come to accept that change takes time.
"It is not possible to change everything overnight. But I know I am doing something and it all contributes to the final objective of improving the welfare of animals," she said.
Tiger parts still sold in Singapore
While fewer physical shops are selling alleged tiger parts, more online advertisements have been popping up.
The trend was announced by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres)on Wednesday at a press conference.
The animal welfare group found that four out of 153 shops it surveyed as part of a recent undercover operation were offering tiger parts like the animal's teeth and claws.
This was a drastic drop from 2010, when a similar investigation by Acres revealed that 59 out of 134 shops were selling tiger parts.
However, Acres found 14 such advertisements on local platforms like Carousell and Gumtree on Tuesday.Trade in tigers, including their parts and products, is prohibited in Singapore.
Acres submitted its findings from the recent operation to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which investigated the four identified shops.
An AVA spokesman told The New Paper on Wednesday that eight pieces of animal parts allegedly from tigers and seals had been seized from three shops.
The items are undergoing forensic analysis to determine their authenticity.
The animal welfare organisation said it will continue to work with AVA to tackle the growing online trade.
Anyone found possessing, selling, offering, advertising, or displaying any endangered species for sale, regardless of authenticity, is liable for a $50,000 fine, a jail term of up to two years for each animal part, or both.
Members of the public are encouraged to contact Acres through its wildlife crime hotline 9783-7782 if they know of any sales of alleged tiger parts.