Game's up for lion-skin tourist as Customs pounces

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 12:00am

A stuffed lion's head with its skin, four limbs and tail still attached has been found in the luggage of a returning tourist stopped by Customs officers at Chek Lap Kok airport.

Astonished officers made the discovery when they asked the businessman, 47, to open a box he was carrying. The traveller and his wife arrived in Hong Kong on Monday afternoon from Johannesburg.

The man originally told Customs officers at the airport inspection counter that he had nothing to declare.

Head of Customs' air passenger division Betty Ng Ching-man said: 'When asked to open the box he was carrying, there was a stuffed lion's head and its skin with four limbs and a tail. They were all in one piece. It was an adult lion and its length was well over two metres.

'The man told us that he spent about $33,000 buying it in South Africa. He claimed it would be used as decoration in his home. But he failed to produce an import permit issued by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.'

Ms Ng said it was the first time that such an animal had been seized at the airport.

She said a live monkey had been seized from an arriving passenger at the airport last year but most of the endangered species seized consisted of crocodile meat and skin brought in from Thailand.

Customs officers handed the man and the seized lion to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department for further investigation.

The businessman was released unconditionally after helping with inquiries.

Under the Animals and Plants (Protection of Endangered Species) Ordinance, people bringing in any endangered species are liable to prosecution. The maximum penalty is a fine of $100,000 and one year's jail.

A department spokeswoman said the seized lion, which is covered by the ordinance, was a female, weighed 11.9kg and was 3.32 metres from head to tail.

An export permit had been issued by South Africa.

The spokeswoman said they were still investigating whether they would prosecute the man. She said officials had investigated two other cases involving lion specimens in the past six years.