Most Hong Kong residents polled in a survey have backed a ban on the trade in some exotic species and tighter regulations governing the sale of other animals.
About 80 per cent of those asked said there should be a blanket ban on the importation of exotic pets such as yellow-crested cockatoos, green iguanas, hognose snakes and alligator snapping turtles.
WWF-Hong Kong said the information gathered from the survey carried out with the ADM Capital Foundation showed the city imported 5.2 million exotic animals between 2015 and 2021 from more than 90 countries, but “only a few hundred thousand” were legally exported over the same period.
“It is clear that every home in Hong Kong does not contain two birds or parrots or iguanas or songbirds or geckos, which raises the question, where are they?” Sam Inglis, a wildlife programme manager at the foundation, said.
Sung Yik-hei, an adjunct assistant science professor at Lingnan University, warned: “Of the millions of exotic animals imported into the city, nearly half are from species facing extinction in the wild.”
He added that Hong Kong was “the last remaining stronghold” for the trade in several species, which were in danger of extinction “within a matter of years”.
Seventy-eight per cent of survey respondents said there was a need to tighten regulations governing the trade of animals in Hong Kong.
Inglis added that exotic pet ownership had not been examined thoroughly by the government since 2005, despite the seizure of many animals over the last decade as traffickers tried to smuggle exotic creatures in and out of the city.
But an amendment to tighten up the rules on the illegal import, export and re-export of rare and endangered species was made to the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance in 2021.
The changes gave authorities powers to crack down on the kingpins of animal trafficking by freezing assets and introduced harsher penalties for lawbreakers.
“The challenge to date is that we haven’t necessarily seen those powers being invoked in any wildlife crime offences,” Inglis said. “Without sending a clear signal to the syndicated organisations that are poaching from our local ecosystems and laundering money in relation to wildlife crimes, we’re only going to see this get worse.”
“Society has become more cognisant of these issues … these are striking figures that the government can consider if they decide to modify the regulations on the exotic pet trade,” she said.
Andersson added there were many reasons Hong Kong was a centre for the global trade in exotic species.
“Hong Kong is part of a global trade network, having traditionally been a port of entry into China … also now with its free port status, it’s one of the busiest ports in the world,” she said.
Andersson said that many exotic animals came from places such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, and historically were sold to satisfy demand in Western countries.
“But also now, with the increasing purchasing power of people in Asia in, for example, China, Singapore and Hong Kong, they are being traded in the region as well,” she said.
The online survey conducted by the two groups polled 2,957 people between June 24 and July 4.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has been contacted for comment.