Debate on tackling wildlife crimes in Hong Kong set in motion
Hong Kong, 1st December 2015—TRAFFIC is fully supporting a motion on “Strengthening the combat against the Crime of Wildlife Smuggling” to be debated in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council tomorrow.
The motion (PDF, 60 KB) notes Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation and transport centre and highlights the legal loopholes that have led to a failure to provide adequate control over wildlife smuggling. The motion also calls for an exploration of restrictions on the trade in ivory, other endangered wild animals and their products in Hong Kong.
Other measures proposed within the motion are:
- Enhancing the scale and enforcement capacity to monitor wildlife smuggling and investigate suspected wildlife crimes;
- Recognising the seriousness of wildlife offences and penalties with inclusion of offences under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance as offences under the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance;
- Strict enforcement and address the loopholes under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance; and
- Strengthen publicity and education to raise awareness amongst Hong Kong’s inbound tourists.
The motion, if approved, will send an important message to the Hong Kong Government to take robust measures to combat illegal wildlife trade, and signifies a commitment towards tackling Hong Kong’s unfortunate reputation as an illegal wildlife hub.
Indeed, recently, the Hong Kong Government has initiated measures on illegal wildlife trade, specifically focused on ivory, which are in line with the motion’s edict. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has announced ten measures to combat smuggling and to strengthen controls over Hong Kong’s domestic ivory trade (PDF, 200 KB). These measures range from increased collaborations with international law enforcement agencies, co-ordinating efforts with local law enforcement departments, greater border controls and strengthened messaging to buyers, and importantly a stock-take and marking of current ivory stocks to identify legality better, and clearer obligations on licence-holders.
TRAFFIC has long called for such measures to be taken by AFCD, Hong Kong’s Management Authority for CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species if Wild Fauna and Flora), and believes that an increased oversight of the ivory trade domestically is essential to deter illegal activities within its borders effectively.
The announcement helps to address the growing perception that Hong Kong has become impassive to the poaching crisis of the world’s remaining elephant populations. These efforts are consistent with major steps taken by China and the United States, two of the biggest markets for illegal ivory, to end their respective domestic ivory trades.
“AFCD’s announced actions on the ivory trade are a great example of the kind of measures that need to be in place to counter a swathe of illegal trade issues involving many other endangered species – some of which may not be as charismatic as elephants, but are just as threatened,” said Dr. Yannick Kuehl, TRAFFIC’s East Asia Regional Director.
The motion to be debated at the Legislative Council takes AFCD’s ivory trade measures one step further by emphasizing the need for a focus on smuggling and crimes in wildlife and exploring trade restrictions.
“The motion is an important signal to the world that Hong Kong is committed to tackling wildlife crimes, and puts the focus on regulatory change, increased law enforcement and awareness-raising efforts as key areas of focus moving forward,” said Dr. Kuehl.
It also comes at an opportune time, with wildlife smuggling continuing to be a regular occurrence at Hong Kong’s borders. This is especially the case with smuggled ivory and rhino horns intercepted this year, most of which have come through the Hong Kong International Airport.
Local seizures are occurring at a time when high profile arrests overseas have been made in recent months that are linked to international organized crime networks. Strengthening local enforcement and co-operation with international law enforcement agencies, as proposed by both the motion and AFCD’s measures on the ivory trade, should help Hong Kong’s law enforcement authorities to scale up their capability to halt illegal wildlife trade in the long run.