SCMP, December 9, 2002 By Anna Healy-Fenton Mini-pigs are back. These cute, cat-sized porkers that made their debut in Hong Kong pet shops last Christmas are on the market again. But buyers should beware - they could be breaking the law and risk being fined up to $100,000 for keeping one. Pigs, unlike dogs or cats, are considered livestock, which means you need a licence to own one and they are banned in urban areas. 'No person shall keep livestock in or on any premises within a specified livestock waste control area,' 1994 Public Health legislation states. The penalties are harsh: a $50,000 fine for a first offence, double that for a second, and $1,000 a day for a continuing offence. Under animal traders' rules, the little pink and black pigs cannot be sold by Hong Kong's 265 pet shops because their licences cover only the sale of dogs, cats, birds, non-venomous reptiles, rabbits, mice, gerbils, hamsters and chinchillas. Pet shops come under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, but pigs come under the Environmental Protection Department, explains Pauline Taylor, deputy executive director of the Society for the Protection of Animals. 'If a shop is licensed to trade in animals and sells pigs, it's breaking the law,' she says. That is probably why this season's first batch of three mini-pigs was being offered for sale in a Mongkok temporary mobile phone shop - next door to a pet shop - late last week. Prices were down significantly from last year, from $2,500 to $800. These pigs may be cute, with their black faces and bottoms, but they are totally unsuitable for keeping in Hong Kong flats, Dr Taylor warns. 'Hong Kong does not create an environment suitable for a pig as a pet. People will be foolishly buying them and then discarding them in a few months. Last year there was a rush of pigs brought to the SPCA,' she said. Mini-pigs can live for 27 years, she says, and they grow quickly. What starts as a tiny pig that can sit in your hands can be a 140kg porker six months later. The three pigs in the Mongkok phone shop came from Taiwan, but last Christmas, when the craze for so-called 'perfumed pigs' took off in China because of restrictions on dogs, the animals were bred in Shenzhen. Glossary debut (n) a first appearance beware (v) to be cautious and alert against risk or danger. Beware can be followed by a noun. Example: beware of pickpockets. This means people should be alert to thieves who steal from one's pocket. However, we do not use to- infinitive after beware. It is wrong to say, 'Beware not to break the porcelain'. Instead we say, 'Be careful not to break the porcelain.' non-venomous (adj) Venomous means secreting poisonous venom. A scorpion is a venomous species. Non-venomous means the opposite. gerbil (n) a burrowing mouse-like rodent with a long tail take off (phrasal v) to suddenly start being successful Discussion points - What are your criteria when choosing presents for your friends? - What are the arguments for and against giving/receiving a pet for Christmas? - In your opinion, what is the best present for this festive season?