Students learn about the food chain and our ecosystem from textbooks. It seems like a simple concept: organisms feed on one another to maintain a balanced ecosystem. But in the real world, with selfish human activities such as the trade in rare animals, that balance has been disrupted.
Wong Sau-ming is a biology teacher at Queen's College Old Boys' Association Secondary School in Tsing Yi. To help students learn about wildlife, he applied for a special permit from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) to keep reptiles, many of which are protected species, in the school's biology lab for educational purposes.
"We have more than 20 turtles and tortoises and an iguana in the lab," he says. "Most of them are smuggled wildlife confiscated by the Customs and Excise Department. Raising students' awareness of wildlife protection is a great way to teach them to be green global citizens."
Chung Ming-lok and Diu Wang-tat, both green ambassadors for the school, have been taking care of the school's wildlife since they were in Form Two. Every day, during recess, lunchtime and after school, they feed the animals and take them up to the rooftop for some sun.
"It's amazing to see such a great variety of wildlife in school," says Wang-tat, now in Form Five. "You only get to see some of these things at Ocean Park. After taking care of the animals, I realised animal trading is a selfish business that harms the environment. Smugglers take animals away from their natural habitat and sell them for profit. Their actions disrupt the ecosystem and cause severe harm."
Ming-lok adds that taking care of the animals has taught him how to be a responsible pet owner.
"There are classmates who say they love dogs, and then a few weeks later they are interested in something else because it is cute," he says. "Keeping animals is not about keeping up with trends or because a particular animal looks cute. We should consider whether we have the ability and resources to care for an animal before deciding to keep one."
The school's efforts have won it the gold award in the secondary school category at the Hong Kong Awards for Environmental Excellence.
Wong says the AFCD has limited resources for taking care of confiscated wildlife, so the students do all they can to help.
"We are going to build another shelter on the rooftop for more tortoises. I was negotiating with the AFCD a while ago to bring in another tortoise, but it died before we could get approval. A lot more should be done to help the animals," he says.
Besides caring for animals, the school's green ambassadors are keen to educate fellow students about leading a green lifestyle.
"We had a clothes exchange programme to encourage graduates to donate their blazers to junior students," says Ming-lok. "There was also a 'bath challenge', where students tried to finish bathing within five minutes as an initiative to save water. Most students have read a great deal about saving the environment, and now it's time for us to act."