HONG KONG: When CNA correspondent Wei Du obtained her first canine, a Shiba Inu known as Elon, final 12 months, little did she know her pet-related web searches would lead her to an odd phenomenon: Dead pets washing up on Hong Kong’s shores.
Last August, Lamma Island resident Iva Sladic discovered a cage amongst different garbage on the seashore. She took a better look, noticed furry our bodies inside and posted her discovering on Facebook. The carcasses turned out to be six dead cats.
The day earlier than, one other cage containing three dead canine had washed up on southern Hong Kong Island. A couple of weeks later, it was a cage with a canine and two cats on Lantau’s shores.
The cats and canine have been unlikely victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to strands of a a lot bigger net of animal smuggling.
Senior Inspector Kary Lam of the Hong Kong Marine Police instructed the programme Undercover Asia that officers busted a smuggling operation in August and located 12 pets crammed into 4 cages in a ship.
The authorities consider the our bodies washed ashore have been the work of smugglers who tossed no matter they might into the sea whereas being pursued in order to lighten their load, impede officers and take a look at to pace out of Hong Kong waters.
Although smuggling between Hong Kong and mainland China shouldn’t be new — Hong Kong authorities encountered 152 instances involving HK$770 million (S$133 million) value of products final 12 months — it was the first time the police realised pets have been being smuggled by sea.
“Owing to the pandemic, land crossings were closed, so smuggling has shifted onto the sea. We’ve seen a lot more activities in the past year,” stated Lam.
THRIVING BLACK MARKET
Hong Kong has a black market in pet cats and canine as a result of legally imported animals price way more than smuggled ones.
Animals legally imported from China should additionally bear a four-month quarantine, by which era they might be out of favour with consumers in search of child animals.
So there are folks on the mainland who breed animals to be smuggled throughout the border and bought as pets, stated Fiona Woodhouse, deputy director (welfare) of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong).
“At one point, people were saying that if you bought five puppies in China, smuggled five in, and only one survived and was sold, you’d still make a healthy profit,” she stated.
“Also, I’ve been to markets in Guangdong province, and you talk to the vendors in the pet stores, and they’d say to you, ‘Oh, you live in Hong Kong. I can arrange for this dog or cat to be delivered.’”
The price of breeding animals in Hong Kong is excessive as a result of land is dear. And in 2017, its authorities carried out new animal welfare guidelines requiring all canine breeders to be correctly licensed, additional rising prices.
To bypass licensing legal guidelines, unlawful sellers would possibly promote their animals as up for adoption. But as Du discovered when she responded to an online put up, the animals have been on the market.
The vendor quoted a worth of HK$7,000 for a cat, a 3rd of the worth she would have paid at a licensed pet store. She didn’t purchase any cat from him.
She went on to uncover dozens of pet homeowners in China whose cats and canine, entrusted to pet immigration companies, have disappeared whereas transiting Hong Kong.
The homeowners included college students overseas who rushed house after COVID-19 hit and have been separated from their pets.
Jason (not his actual identify), as an illustration, returned to Shanghai in July after finishing his research in Australia. The airways with pet-friendly insurance policies had decreased their routes, and he was unable to get on a flight with his cat.
He entrusted it to an company, which organized for the cat’s journey to Shanghai through Hong Kong. The company saved him posted with a video when his pet arrived in the Fragrant Harbour.
But shortly afterwards, a person known as and instructed Jason that the driver who picked up his cat had gone lacking. The caller couldn’t present the driver’s contact quantity or licence plate quantity.
Hong Kong police are conscious of such instances of pets vanishing en route to the mainland.
WATCH: Missing pets and the lethal path of pet smugglers in Hong Kong (7:50)
The animals in the smuggling operation busted in August have been microchipped and had legally entered the territory, cited Hong Kong Marine Police detective Alex Tam.
“Our guess is that the pandemic made it impossible for the owners to bring their pets back to the mainland legally, so they employed agents,” he stated.
“The agents didn’t care about the pets’ safety, so they tried to smuggle them.”
DRIVEN TO BRINK OF EXTINCTION
Hong Kong’s standing as a serious port and commerce hub means cats and canine kind a mere fraction of animal smuggling operations.
Local authorities seized round 18,000 animals between 2015 and 2019, in accordance to information tracked by the ADM Capital Foundation, an organisation that focuses on local weather motion and biodiversity safety.
This determine, which incorporates endangered species, is probably going to be the “tip of the iceberg”, stated the basis’s wildlife programme supervisor, Sam Inglis.
Demand for unique pets, fuelled partly by social media, has severe implications for wildlife and biodiversity.
Besides the downside of shoppers who’re unable to deal with and supply properly for his or her pets, the animals might have been poached from the wild and ripped from their moms, which can have been killed in the course of.
Many animals additionally die in transit earlier than they attain their consumers.
One of the world’s rarest — and closely trafficked — tortoises is the ploughshare tortoise, which is native to Madagascar and on the brink of extinction. Only 200 to 400 of them are estimated to stay in the wild.
But at one level, Hong Kong’s Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden had an estimated 7 per cent of the world’s dwelling inhabitants of the tortoise, cited senior conservation officer Paul Crow from the conservation and schooling centre.
“The scary thing is these are the ones that were confiscated. There may have been more that made it through the territory without being stopped,” stated Crow, whose centre tries to rehome animals or return them to the wild.
Even animals which might be confiscated and rescued might meet with a tragic finish.
Species that aren’t uncommon won’t be the focus of zoo breeding programmes and conservation efforts, Crow famous. If their level of origin is unknown, it might be unimaginable to launch them again into the wild.
WATCH: The full episode — Hong Kong’s lethal underground animal commerce (48:03)
“Sometimes in cases like this, governments and rescue facilities are forced to euthanise or humanely despatch an animal because it doesn’t have an option — a positive option,” Crow stated.
David Olson, conservation director at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Hong Kong, stated social media platforms ought to take away listings of animals on the market and encourage folks not to have selfies or any type of interplay with wild animals.
There ought to be devoted groups evaluating listings in several languages, he urged. “We need to get away from the concept of wild animals as pets or anywhere outside of the wild as entertainment.”
Watch this episode of Undercover Asia here. The programme airs on Saturdays at 9pm.