Hong Kong animal protection groups urge minimum seven-year jail terms for wildlife smuggling to ensure ‘effective deterrent’
Fines and sentences proposed by government under current review “simply don’t cut it”, concern groups say in letter to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, as Hong Kong remains “favoured” location for criminal gangs smuggling endangered species
A coalition of environmental and animal protection groups has signed a letter urging the government to rethink penalties for crimes such as ivory smuggling to send a strong message to would-be offenders.
In a letter addressed to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, an “alliance of interests” led by WildAid Hong Kong and including WWF-Hong Kong, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, called for a deterrent to “effectively eradicate” the continued trade in endangered wildlife in the city.
After Hong Kong announced in June a plan to end the legal domestic ivory trade, authorities began a review of fines and jail terms for crimes under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, which was last reviewed more than two decades ago in 1995.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is proposing a HK$10 million fine and four-year jail term for Appendix I crimes, which are listed under an international wildlife treaty, and a HK$1 million fine and imprisonment of two years for Appendix II and III breaches, but signatories of the letter say the proposed penalties are too lenient.
The letter was submitted on Friday on the final day of a government consultation on the issue.
The signatories want a minimum seven-year jail term and for wildlife smuggling offences to invoke the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance, which would give police the power to investigate criminals and the proceeds of crime and associated activities.
At present, smuggling ivory or pangolin products – classed as an Appendix I species – into Hong Kong without a licence for commercial purposes is punishable with a HK$5 million fine and two years in jail, but the wildlife concern groups want the punishments increased to an unlimited fine and imprisonment for 10 years. They also want Appendix II and III breaches to be punishable by an unlimited fine and seven years in prison, up from the HK$500,000 fine and one year currently.
Gavin Edwards, conservation director at WWF-Hong Kong, said the government review was urgently needed as Hong Kong continued to be “favoured” by criminal gangs for smuggling endangered wildlife.
“Hong Kong needs to start recognising wildlife crime as a ‘serious crime’ by including it under the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance. We believe 10-year maximum prison sentences and multimillion-dollar fines are needed,” he said. “The fines and sentences proposed by government simply don’t cut it – they will not provide a sufficient deterrent to the transnational crime syndicates who are driving this lucrative illegal wildlife trade.”
Alex Hofford of WildAid Hong Kong said: “We hope the government will listen carefully to the views of our broad coalition of Hong Kong wildlife NGOs, and finally treat wildlife crime as serious and organised.”
An AFCD spokesman said: “We appreciate all the feedback received and will take into consideration their views and comments during the review exercise.”