South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)
How Hong Kong can shed its reputation as a wildlife trafficking hub
Measures introduced in 2018 to curb such illegal trade have not effectively deterred smugglers, as recent record hauls show. Amending the law to make trafficking a serious crime would demonstrate Hong Kong’s resolve and turn it into a global leader in enforcement
Published: 7:20am, 22 Mar, 2021Why you can trust SCMP
Pangolin scales seized by Hong Kong custom officers are shown on February 2, 2019. International trade in pangolin scales has been banned since 2017, yet its illicit trade has persisted. Photo: AFPHong Kong has the unfortunate reputation of being a global wildlife trade and trafficking hub. While the exact volume of the illegal trade remains unknown, the best indicator we have are the seizures of wildlife (live animals and parts) and these are among some of the largest globally.It is therefore commendable that Hong Kong lawmakers are prepared to show global leadership in addressing the illegal wildlife trade by introducing a members’ bill into the Legislative Council which, if successful, will go boldly where few countries have.
The bill proposes to amend the city’s Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance by adding the most serious wildlife offences to its Schedule 1. If this is successful, Hong Kong will demonstrate its commitment to combating wildlife trafficking by providing its enforcement authorities with the much-needed tools to meet the traffickers head on.
Over the last decade, illegal wildlife valued at over HK$866 million was seized in Hong Kong. Compared to other lucrative crimes, the values of these seizures consistently rank in the top five of the over 55 ordinances on which the city’s Customs and Excise Department act.
Pangolins continue to face threat of extinction despite wildlife trade bans
In May 2018, the government introduced indictable offences and increased the maximum penalties for smuggling and illegal trade in endangered species to a HK$10 million fine and 10 year’s imprisonment. Unfortunately, there is no indication of any substantive curbing of the illegal wildlife trade in the city since the enactment of these amendments.
In fact, in the two years immediately following, wildlife seizures reached new peaks. In 2018 and 2019, local enforcement authorities seized over 649 tonnes of wildlife valued at HK$207 million in 1,404 seizures.
The government convicted 377 offenders with sentences ranging from a fine of HK$300 to imprisonment of 32 months. However, these prosecutions have done little to deter those orchestrating and benefiting from these illegal supply chains.
Further, globally significant cases do not appear to have been pursued by Hong Kong prosecutors for lack of evidence, including the following record seizures:
- Over 8.2 tonnes of pangolin scales seized with 2.1 tonnes of ivory (equivalent to 13,800 pangolins and200 elephants);
- 82kg of rhino horn (equivalent to 31 black rhino or 14 white rhinos);
- 7.2 tonnes of ivory (equivalent to 1,690 elephants); and
- 1,005 tonnes of Malagasy rosewood
The illegal wildlife trade is an increasingly important issue of international concern, leading to species extinction and biodiversity loss, ultimately damaging the very ecosystems on which humanity depends. Yet the trade continues to supply a market for mostly luxury and non-essential goods including décor, ornaments, jewellery, pets – at great cost.
The lack of effective enforcement we see in Hong Kong is also evident worldwide. As species continue to decline, the traffickers are clearly winning.
Sophie Le Clue, director of environmental programme, ADM Capital Foundation, Central