Endangered reptiles to be returned to Philippines
More than 100 endangered reptiles from the Philippines that were smuggled into Hong Kong will be 'repatriated' to their home country today, officials say.
The animals - including pond turtles and water lizards that are unique to the Philippines - will enter a government rescue centre on their return, where they will be considered for future release into the wild.
On June 14, officers discovered 105 reptiles inside a large suitcase carried by a 22-year-old mainland man who claimed to be a student. He was intercepted at Hong Kong International Airport's arrival hall and was later sentenced to six weeks in prison.
The 39 pond turtles, 46 Southeast Asian box turtles, 19 Mindanao monitor lizards and a reticulated python were temporarily placed in the care of Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden in the New Territories.
Paul Crow, senior conservation officer of the farm, said yesterday: 'This repatriation highlights the importance of co-operation between governments and non-governmental organisations to combat wildlife crime.'
Previously, the smuggler had been prosecuted for illegally importing 60 reptiles from the Philippines in February and fined HK$4,000.
Dr Gary Ades, head of the Kadoorie farm's conservation department, said the animals were in poor health when they arrived last month, but were now fit for travel.
'Many of them were underweight and dehydrated, and required treatment,' he said. 'Currently the animals are fit and well. They recovered from the minor infections and diseases they had when they arrived. They're ready to travel now.'
The farm said it decided to send back the animals, as keeping them too long in an artificial environment would undermine their ability to adapt to the wild.
All the seized reptiles are listed under Appendix II of Cites, a multilateral treaty protecting endangered fauna and flora, which means permits are required for these animals to be transported between countries.
Alfred Wong, an endangered species protection officer for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said the reptiles were probably bound for the local exotic-pet market if they had not been rescued.
'There has been a growing demand in the reptile pet market here,' Wong said.
Last year, the department intercepted around 1,000 illegally smuggled reptiles, which can fetch hundreds to thousands of dollars in the market.
The Mindanao monitor lizard can live this many years
- Mating has only been seen in captivity and population is unknown