Hong Kong to step up its fight against illegal wildlife trade by treating it as a serious crime

According to EIA’s database, 35 large seizures of pangolin scales and ivory (defined as a seizure of over 500kg) have taken place in Hong Kong since 2000, representing 12 per cent of major global seizure incidents.

Yet there has been no indication that any wildlife trafficking syndicates have ever been brought to justice within the Territory.

But all that is now set to change.

An amendment to include the crime in Hong Kong’s Serious Crime Ordinance (OSCO), which EIA has been campaigning for along with others, has just been passed by the Legislative Council.

EIA has been working with other organisations on the OSCO Amendment campaign. Left to right: Claudia Cheung, WildAid; Amanda Whitfort, Associate Professor of the University of Hong Kong; Hon Elizabeth Quat BBS, JP, Legislative Councillor (Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong); Christie Wong, ADM Capital Foundation © ADM Capital Foundation

Previously, wildlife trafficking in Hong Kong has been tackled through the enforcement of the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance under the mandate of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, but they had neither the experience nor the capacity to conduct the necessary investigations to combat organised crime.

EIA’s seizure data and intelligence on the operational methods of transnational wildlife trafficking networks helped to build the case for the amendment and to inform lawmakers.

Hong Kong is a wildlife trafficking hotspot: 12 per cent of the world’s large-scale seizures happened here, such as this haul of 8.3 tonnes of pangolin scales and 2.1 tonnes of ivory shipped from Nigeria in 2019 © Hong Kong Customs and Exercise Department

“We applaud the adoption of the Bill,” said EIA Wildlife Campaigner Ceres Kam. “This is a clear signal that the Hong Kong Government wants to raise its game against wildlife tracking.

“Now the challenge for the Government is to translate that commitment into action. We look forward to seeing successful convictions and the sentencing of high-level traffickers under this amendment.”

The amendment covers the illegal import, possession, export and re-export of listed species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

It means that Customs and Exercise can now employ its expertise in serious crime investigations into wildlife trafficking cases too.

The change in the law will also allow the courts to confiscate the proceeds of wildlife crime and pass stiffer sentences.