MACAU: A report titled ‘Trading in Extinction-The Dark Side of Hong Kong’s Wildlife Trade’ has been released and comments on the woes and challengers that the neighbouring SAR faces in tackling the issue of illegal wildlife trade, while describing the Macau SAR’s role as an illegal elephant tusk ivory trade port.
The report, created by various Hong Kong animal rights associations and international NGOs, states that as Hong Kong has the current global ranking as ‘the largest cargo airport, the 8th busiest passenger airport and the 5th largest container port’, there is little surprise that Hong Kong’s illegal wildlife trade is large by volume, underestimated, and contributing to a global extinction crisis.
The report described the case of a crime syndicate known as the Teng Group, a syndicate comprised of Taiwanese and Philippine nationals and focused in organised wildlife crime in Central Africa between the 1980’s and 2000’s chiefly operated out of Cameroon and Nigeria, sending ivory to Taiwan, and utilising both Macau and Hong Kong as transhipment ports.
‘The Teng syndicate was estimated to earn as much as US$5 million (HK$39 million) every two months from regular shipments of around 600 tusks, as well as through money laundering and drug trafficking,’ the report indicates.
This criminal group – last traced to the Philippines – is believed to continue to be active and is estimated to have been responsible for the killing of as many as 36,000 elephants over 30 years of operation.
On March 4, 2016 a large scale of ivory smuggling was also uncovered on the neighbouring city of Zhuhai, when the Zhuhai Border Defence Force received a tip-off that someone was planning to smuggle goods from Hong Kong via Qi’ao Island.
That evening, in the sea north of Qi’ao Island, Zhuhai, officials discovered an unregistered 8-metre long boat travelling at high speed from Hong Kong towards Zhuhai […] Inspections found boxes in the hold of the boat and scattered around it on the beach.
221 pieces of ivory were found in the boxes, weighing around 450kg in total,’ the report indicated.
Officials working on the case described the seized ivory consisted of raw African ivory cut into pieces, with the biggest piece was 53cm long, weighing 7.5 kilogrammes.
According to the report, of 2,011 wildlife seizures over the past five years, the data amounts to nearly 1,456 metric tonnes (MT) of various wildlife products across four categories: elephant, pangolin, wood logs and ‘Other Endangered Species’.
The report laments that gaps in legislation, enforcement and monitoring have allowed the city’s illegal wildlife trade to continue and in recent years to proliferate, and with its current enforcement focus on prosecuting carriers or mules instead of investigating and prosecuting the networks and organised criminality, a reputation as a ‘black hole’ or ‘safe harbour’ for such activities has developed and will likely worsen, unless addressed.
This holds especially true with regards to trade routes that are multiplying, providing further options for traffickers, such as the expansion of regional trade agreements, facilitated through the likes of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, and expanding cross-border infrastructure, such as the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge, Hong Kong International Airport’s Third Runway System and the Express Rail Link, it seems likely that the wildlife trade through Hong Kong will grow in lockstep, if not faster.
But not all hope is lost in combatting the issue of illegal wildlife trade, on May 1 of 2018, the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants (Amendment) Ordinance was enacted.
This Ordinance ended Hong Kong’s role in the international trade in pre-convention ivory, introduced increased penalties for offences as regards the trade and possession of regulated wildlife species and will ultimately phase out the domestic trade in ivory by December 31, 2021.
The report urges the Hong Kong government to establish a dedicated Wildlife Crime Unit or Bureau within the Customs and Excise Department to better ensure that wildlife crimes are investigated and prosecution is more vigorously pursued.