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LCQ13: Protection of critically endangered species of animals
     Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Lam and a written reply by the Secretary for Environment and Ecology, Mr Tse Chin-wan, in the Legislative Council today (May 10):
     It has been reported that an academic found that "big-headed turtles", which are classified as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, were illegally captured in the wild on at least 10 occasions in February and March this year, while the number of such occasions was only about 10 per year during the COVID-19 epidemic. The academic has pointed out that the turtle catchers are skilled, and inferred that they are professional turtle catchers. Such situation has aroused concerns. Regarding the protection of critically endangered species of animals, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has grasped the species of local critically endangered animals and the locations where they frequent; if so, of the specific monitoring or protection measures; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) whether it has made use of technology to assist in the monitoring work; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) of the number of reports or complaints received by the authorities in the past three years in relation to the capture of critically endangered animals; and
(4) of the number of joint-departmental enforcement operations against the capture of critically endangered animals carried out by the Government in the past three years?
     The Government spares no effort in combating illegal hunting activities with a view to safeguarding wild animals. Upon receipt of public reports on any suspected illegal hunting of wild animals, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) will investigate and follow up as soon as possible, including deploying staff to the scene to inspect, collect evidence and carry out appropriate law enforcement actions, and engage relevant government departments for assistance when needed. If there is sufficient evidence, the AFCD will institute prosecution against the offenders. Our reply to the various parts of the question raised by the Hon Lam, in consultation with the AFCD, is as follows:
(1) The AFCD conducts regular territory-wide land ecological surveys to collect information on local wild animals in countryside areas, such as species (including big-headed turtle) and their occurrence. Survey findings, where suitable (occurrence information of endangered species will be kept confidential), will be published via channels such as the "Hong Kong Biodiversity" newsletter (bih.gov.hk/en/resource-centre/biodiversity-newsletters/index.html).
     According to the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170), no person shall, without permission, have in his possession of any hunting appliance, and hunt, wilfully disturb, sell or export, have in his possession or under his control of any protected wild animals (including big-headed turtle). Offenders are liable to a maximum fine of $100,000 and imprisonment for one year upon conviction. In addition, illegal possession of endangered species (including big-headed turtle) may also contravene the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap. 586). Upon conviction, the maximum penalty is a fine of $10 million and imprisonment for ten years, with concerned specimens forfeited. The AFCD deploys staff to patrol the countryside areas regularly and steps up patrol or arranges special enforcement operations at locations where suspected illegal hunting activities are detected. If any hunting appliance is found, the AFCD staff will remove it immediately. The AFCD also conducts publicity and education programmes to remind the public that using hunting appliances and hunting wild animals are unlawful, and they shall not commit such offences.
(2) The AFCD has been keeping in view the latest developments on innovative technology regularly, with a view to adopting appropriate measures and technology to assist in the surveillance of local wildlife and enforcement purposes. Since 2018, the AFCD has commissioned local universities to install infrared cameras in the main habitats of freshwater turtles in Hong Kong to monitor and detect in real-time any suspicious human activities in these locations. Earlier this year, the AFCD received reports of suspected illegal hunting of freshwater turtles detected through the infrared cameras, and deployed staff to the site to inspect and investigate, and also stepped up patrol at relevant locations. No suspicious person has been arrested so far. The AFCD will continue to closely monitor the situation and take enforcement action decisively when needed.
(3) From 2020 to 2023 (as of March), the number of reports or complaints* about suspected illegal hunting of wild animals received by the AFCD is as follows:
Year 2020 2021 2022 2023
(as at March)
Number of complaints and reports 54 107 70 43
*There is no separate breakdown of cases related to critically endangered species.
(4) From time to time, the AFCD joins forces with relevant government departments (including the Hong Kong Police Force) and relevant animal organisations to conduct joint inspections at places where illegal hunting activities were detected in the past, or upon receipt of intelligence indicating occurrence of such activities. From 2020 to 2023 (as at March), the AFCD conducted a total of 21 inter-departmental joint operations, from which 96 hunting appliances were found and removed, and with two cases of successful prosecution.
Ends/Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:00
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