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One of the 101 kittens found during an anti-smuggling operation on Wednesday. Photo: Handout

More than 130 pedigree kittens, puppies confiscated in Hong Kong’s largest seizure of smuggled pets

  • Law enforcement officers find 101 kittens and 35 puppies, all expensive breeds, inside 17 plastic crates on speedboat intercepted in Tuen Mun
  • Man, 30, arrested aboard 10-metre-long boat during joint operation mounted by police and customs officers

More than 130 pedigree kittens and puppies illicitly shipped from mainland China have been confiscated from a speedboat operating in Hong Kong waters, making it the city’s largest seizure of pets in an anti-smuggling operation.

The 101 kittens and 35 puppies, all expensive breeds, were found inside 17 plastic crates on the speedboat which was intercepted off Black Point in Tuen Mun late on Wednesday, following a high-speed chase with police in northwestern waters.

During the joint operation mounted by police and customs, a 30-year-old man alone in the 10-metre-long boat was arrested aboard the vessel.

Authorities confiscate more than 130 pedigree kittens and puppies smuggled from mainland China aboard a speedboat. Photo: Handout

“We found 16 cats crammed in one of the crates. The quantity is staggering,” Senior Inspector Yung Kam-lun of the force’s small boat division said on Thursday, adding that an initial examination indicated all the animals were in good health.

According to Senior Inspector Tang Sau-yin of customs’ marine enforcement group, the animals were either bought online before being smuggled from the mainland for buyers to keep as pets in Hong Kong or they were bound for shops to be sold in the city. He said the haul was estimated to be worth more than HK$1.4 million (US$178,360).

Senior Inspector Chan Ling of the marine regional crime unit said the animals could each fetch between HK$10,000 and HK$15,000 locally.

He said an investigation was under way and further arrests had not been ruled out.

A source said all the kittens and puppies were well-known breeds and some of them were a few months old.

The Post has learned that the cat breeds were ragdoll, British shorthair, American shorthair and Bengal, while puppies included Shiba Inu and Pomeranians. The animals had no identification microchips.

The source said it was the largest seizure of pets in terms of quantity in a single anti-smuggling operation.

The kittens and puppies were handed over to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Hong Kong authorities seize pets, frozen animal genitals, tails in anti-smuggling raid

According to the force, the speedboat with an outboard engine entered Hong Kong’s northwestern waters near Sha Chau at 11.50pm on Wednesday. Two police pursuit boats were deployed to intercept it.

The coxswain had ignored repeated signals and requests to stop the speedboat. Instead, he made a U-turn and accelerated, heading towards the mainland.

“During the pursuit, it swerved several times in an attempt to escape,” Yung said.

After a five-minute pursuit, the boat was eventually intercepted off Black Point.

The suspect was detained on suspicion of importing unmanifested cargo, animal cruelty and endangering the safety of others at sea. As of Thursday afternoon, he was still being held for questioning and had not been charged.

The source said he believed the suspect was paid to go to the mainland, probably Shekou, to pick up the animals.

He added that mainland authorities had stepped up enforcement actions against sea smuggling since February after some people who crossed the border illegally from Hong Kong amid the city’s surging fifth wave of Covid-19 infections tested positive for the virus.

“The rigorous enforcement has deterred mainland smugglers from continuing their illegal seaborne trade between Hong Kong and the mainland,” he said, adding that this was probably why the Hong Kong suspect was recruited.

Law enforcement officers find 101 kittens and 35 puppies inside 17 plastic crates on a speedboat intercepted off Black Point in Tuen Mun. Photo: Handout

A spokesman for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said it had received a call from law enforcement on Wednesday night about a suspected smuggling case in which a total of 136 cats and dogs had been seized.

Inspectors from the society arrived at the scene and found the animals crammed inside small cages. They also helped with the handling of the cats and dogs by providing food, water and cages, he said.

After the animals underwent a preliminary examination by veterinary surgeons from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the society said it had collected 12 dogs and 35 cats on Thursday.

The spokesman said the animals would be available for adoption once the relevant legal procedures were completed and following a minimum quarantine period of four months. He said the group would provide daily care and medical treatments for the cats and dogs until it received further notice from law enforcement agencies.

Hong Kong ‘complicit’ in growing exotic pet trade, group warns

“As the SPCA received an overwhelming amount of inquiries on this case, we advise members of the public to get the most updated information about this case via news and credible sources,” the spokesman said.

“The animals are being well cared for and we appreciate the concern. We ask for your patience and refrain from overloading our hotline with inquiries, which may affect emergency calls for other animals in urgent need of assistance.”

The Post reported last month that mainland authorities had at least two coastguard gunboats patrolling the sea near Hong Kong to deter smugglers and discourage people from sneaking across the border.

A previous haul of pedigree animals from the mainland was seized in January when 30 kittens and seven puppies were confiscated along with HK$4.1 million worth of contraband comprising frozen bull penis and deer tails at the Ha Pak Lai coastal area in Yuen Long in an anti-smuggling operation.

The animals were smuggled into the city from the mainland while the frozen goods were headed across the border.

The January bust was the second seizure of pedigree pets in three weeks. On December 15, a policeman drew his gun but failed to stop a suspected smuggler from fleeing in a delivery van during an operation in which officers confiscated 52 kittens and puppies, also in Ha Pak Lai.