More than 40 kittens and puppies, believed smuggled from mainland China, were seized aboard a speedboat following a high-speed chase with police in Hong Kong waters just before daybreak on Monday.
The animals, all expensive breeds, were found inside 21 cages on the speedboat at the Tung Chung New Development Pier on Lantau after six smugglers abandoned the boat and fled on foot at around 5am. Officers scouted the area, but no arrests were made.
The Post has learned that the cat breeds represented were Ragdoll, Russian Blue, Chinchilla, British Shorthair, Scottish Fold, American Shorthair and Bengal, while all nine puppies were poodles. None were thought to be more than two months old.
The source said he believed the would-be pets might have been bought online before being smuggled from the mainland to buyers in the city.
“Because of the closure of major border checkpoints under the coronavirus pandemic, we do not rule out the possibility smugglers were forced to use the sea route to deliver the animals across the border,” he said.
The 34 kittens and nine puppies, which had no identification microchips, were seized along with 34 large boxes of illicit cigarettes valued at HK$1.1 million (S$191,000) in the boat measuring eight metres (26 feet) long.
Staff from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) were also called in to assist.
According to the SPCA, one junior Ragdoll was found dead in one of the cages.
“All the cats are being sent to the SPCA Wan Chai headquarters. The cat carcass will be sent to the AFCD for a postmortem,” the society said.
The nine young dogs were picked up by the AFCD officers.
“All the kittens and puppies are young and thought to be one or two months old,” one law enforcement source said. “Initial investigation shows all the cats and dogs are well-known breeds.”
But the source said it was different from the August cases in which four cages containing the carcasses of 15 cats and dogs were thought to have been thrown overboard by smugglers who were being pursued. “We believe this time, the animals were smuggled into the city from the mainland,” the source said.
Police and customs officers in a joint anti-smuggling operation had lain in wait at Pak Mong on northern Lantau since 10pm on Sunday.
The speedboat was found docked at the Pak Mong waterfront at about 5am on Monday. Its coxswain was on board while another five men were on the shore.
When two police pursuit crafts moved in, the five men jumped into the speedboat, which sped away.
After a 6km sea pursuit, the boat docked at the Tung Chung pier and all six men abandoned the boat.
Another source said last Tuesday’s gruesome discovery of two cages holding the carcasses of one dog and two cats on Lantau’s Sham Wat beach could be linked to the same sort of smuggling activity, noting they were also young animals that had not been microchipped.
“It is possible the cages fell overboard from a speedboat while being smuggled into the city,” he said.
On Aug 21, at Mui Wo on Lantau, police and customs officers seized goods worth HK$37 million, including abalone, electronics, red wine and cosmetic products on a speedboat in one of the biggest smuggling cases of its kind this year.
Four cages carrying 12 microchipped dogs of various breeds, including Labradors, Pomeranians, poodles, Yorkshire terriers and Maltese, were also among the seized items. Two mainland men were arrested.
The case took a grim turn on Aug 26, when a cage containing the badly decomposed carcasses of three microchipped dogs was found washed ashore near St Stephen’s Beach in Stanley, on southern Hong Kong Island.
Another two crates containing 12 dead cats were found on a Lamma Island beach the following day. Law enforcement sources suspected the animals were thrown overboard by smugglers attempting to destroy evidence or lighten their speedboat’s load while being pursued.
Police in September said that animal smuggling was rare but expanding as a business amid the coronavirus pandemic, as many owners – believed to be mainland Chinese working or studying abroad – had paid up to 40,000 yuan (S$8,000) each to an agency to have their pets sent back to them after they returned home.
Lawmaker Kwong Chun Yu on Monday wrote to Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang Ping Keung expressing concern over the recent cross-border animal smuggling activities.
He said he hoped police would bring the perpetrators to justice as soon as possible to avoid more animals being harmed.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.