"Hong Kong’s leading role in the global extinction crisis, as hub of illegal wildlife trade, and the legal amendment that could change that"
23 April 2021
- The scales and carcasses of tens of thousands of pangolins are shipped illegally through Hong Kong every year
- Existing laws do little to stem this trade, but a proposed law change to treat wildlife smuggling as organised crime could make a big difference
Pangolins have clever defence mechanisms. When threatened they curl up into a tight ball – the name pangolin is derived from the Malay word pengguling, meaning “one who rolls up” – the hard scales covering their bodies overlap to create an “armour”. Like skunks, pangolins can spray a noxious fluid from glands near their anuses to keep predators at bay.
Sadly these protective tools can’t deter humans, who have poached the anteater-like creatures to near-extinction, the trade fuelled by false claims in traditional Chinese medicine that pangolin scales relieve ailments from asthma to poor kidney function, and can improve lactation. On top of that, in China and Vietnam pangolin meat is considered a delicacy.
The legislative reform, says Amanda Whitfort, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, would facilitate the use of powers by enforcement authorities to tackle wildlife crime that are currently reserved for serious crimes such as drug and arms trafficking.
It would allow the investigation of persons or materials with connections to organised crime as well as the confiscation of proceeds of crimes, she says, and could serve as a powerful disincentive to wildlife criminals, preventing the reinvestment of profits to fund further criminal activities.
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