180 lizards seized, suspect arrested
Police have arrested a suspected smuggler and seized 180 protected lizards bound for dining tables on the mainland in an operation on Lantau.
The consignment, which could have been sold for HK$690,000, was found in 60 boxes at To Kau Wan, off Lantau Link, on Wednesday night, police said.
Senior Inspector Wong Wai-hon of the marine police said the lizards were water monitors. 'They are about one metre long each. They include live and dead ones,' he said.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the live ones were put down because they were in poor health.
Officers said investigations showed the lizards were destined for Huidong in Guangdong. 'There is a demand for the lizards because mainland people believe eating wild animals is good for their health,' one said.
Marine police began investigating the cross-border smuggling of wild animals after a tip-off about two weeks ago. Officers were waiting on a To Kau Wan hillside when two speedboats arrived and berthed at the waterfront at 10.30pm on Wednesday, before two trucks pulled up.
A group of 10 men began loading the boxes from the vehicles on to the speedboats. As police approached, the men jumped back on to the speedboats. One of the two truck drivers was arrested as he tried to follow them.
The speedboats outran a police launch heading towards mainland waters. The second driver fled in one of the trucks and lost police in the New Territories.
Police said the lizards came from either Malaysia or Thailand and arrived in Hong Kong by air on Wednesday. Smugglers picked up the consignment at the airport's cargo terminal.
The Customs and Excise Department will follow up the case.
The haul is the third seizure of endangered animals this year.
On February 9, more than 3,200 live snakes and turtles - many of them endangered species - were seized by police in Lantau North Country Park. No one was arrested.
A haul of 629 lizards was seized after police intercepted a mainland-bound speedboat off Tuen Mun and arrested two men on January 14.
Wong said there were no indications to suggest there was a rising trend of smuggling of wild animals. 'We will closely monitor the situation and take enforcement action to combat such illegal activities.'