Ban on rhino horns ignored

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 October, 1993, 12:00am

ENVIRONMENTAL activists claimed yesterday a Chinese pharmacy in Kowloon was breaking the law by offering a $68,000 rhinoceros horn for sale.

A group known as the Environmental Investigation Agency said the Ginseng USA shop on Nathan Road had the horn publicly displayed in a glass cabinet when its members entered the store yesterday.

A six-month investigation by the group into 90 Chinese medicine shops revealed that at least half sold illegal rhino horns, hides and patent medicine.

The agency's executive director, David Currey, said the market for rhino horns was lucrative in Hong Kong, making the territory directly responsible for the destruction of rhinos in Asia and Africa. Yesterday's horn was from an Asian rhino.

''What is disturbing is that the Agriculture and Fisheries Department is claiming they strictly enforce the law. We see very clearly that they don't,'' he said.

''What is needed here is an enforcement agency set up specifically for endangered species under the umbrella of the police department.

''If we can walk into stores as innocently as this and find rhino products, then it is a big problem. People are dying trying to save rhinos yet you can find horns here in Hong Kong.'' The agency's Hong Kong representative, Heena Patel, said most of the sellers were not genuine herbalists.

She said most were business people who were selling the rhino products as investment items.

She said she respected the Chinese belief in the healing properties of the rhino but said it was time to find an alternative.

Possession of rhino products has been illegal in Hong Kong since 1989. Violations mean a fine of up to $25,000 for a first offence, and $50,000 and six months' jail for a second.

But Ms Patel said the strict fines had never been applied.

She said the last criminal prosecution in Hong Kong regarding the illegal trade was in 1989 where 14 horns were netted, but the case was thrown out of court.

Agriculture and Fisheries Department principal information officer Pauline Ling Po-lin said Hong Kong had the strictest legislation in the region concerning the illegal trade of rhino products.

''We do lots of enforcement but in Hong Kong there are some 2,000 Chinese medicine shops. We are trying our best to curb the problem,'' she said.

''We cannot rule out the possibility that there are still some of these products on sale in the market. We welcome any information that can assist in our operation.'' The Environmental Investigation Agency will meet the Agriculture and Fisheries Department and customs officers tomorrow to discuss the issue.