Department vows to combat rhino traders
PLANS are underway to control the illegal trade of rhino products and enforce Hong Kong's strict legislation to protect the endangered species, it was revealed yesterday.
The Agriculture and Fisheries Department vowed to investigate shops dealing in rhino products from names and addresses provided by the Environmental Investigation Agency during a two-hour meeting.
They also discussed ways to curb the escalating rhino trade.
The department's Assistant Director, Frank Lau Sin-pang, said a clampdown on the smuggling and selling of rhino products for medicinal purposes was a top priority.
Mr Lau said they would discuss with the Customs and Excise Department and police the agency's proposal to set up a special enforcement group to deal specifically with the problem.
He said he was concerned at the agency's figures claiming 59 out of 90 Chinese pharmacies surveyed in June contained illegal rhino products, but said the department was not sure how severe the problem was.
Both the agency and the Agriculture and Fisheries Department described the meeting as ''useful''.
The agency's executive director, David Currey, warned that urgent action must be taken before the 10,000 rhinos in the world were wiped out.
He said representatives from the customs department said they were doing everything they could.
''Hong Kong is a special case because as a free port it encourages trade, which makes it more dangerous for endangered species,'' he said.
''The Agriculture and Fisheries Department agreed with us that organised crime is involved in this and that they do not have the skills to deal with it.
''It is a fact this is a serious crime and it must come under the control of the police.'' The Customs and Excise Department did not return calls from the South China Morning Post yesterday.
Mr Currey has thrown down the gauntlet to Governor Chris Patten, with whom the agency has been unsuccessful in securing a meeting, to solve the problem.
''Our perception is if action is to take place then it is Chris Patten who has to make this happen. We would be very happy to meet him if he could make the time,'' he said.
''I will only be satisfied when we see some action.'' Mr Currey reiterated an ultimatum calling for the eradication of the illegal rhino trade by March next year, or the agency would recommend the 120-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) place mandatory sanctions against Hong Kong.
Yeung Hau-man, executive director of Earthcare, which worked with the agency in Guangzhou, claimed that wealthy locals who purchased rhino horn were violating the law.
The agency met representatives of the Chinese medical community last night to discuss a proposal to have traditional medicine recognised and regulated.