DAB lawmaker Elizabeth Quat said on Monday she plans to introduce a private member's bill to the Legislative Council, in a bid to give local authorities more power to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade.
Quat proposes giving authorities the power to go after the syndicates and masterminds behind the illegal trade, by incorporating wildlife crimes into the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance (OSCO).
NGOs and legal experts say existing laws do not do enough to address wildlife smuggling and trafficking.
They point out that authorities had made five record-breaking wildlife seizures in the city in the past 18 months, with customs seizing more than 40,000kg of endangered species in 2019.
They say the city is a wildlife smuggling hub, with organised criminal networks exploiting gaps in the city’s laws.
Stan Shea, marine director of Bloom, a marine wildlife concern group, said the trafficking encompassed not only dead animals, but live ones too.
“Animals are often tied up or even poisoned during transportation... it is not only smuggling but animal cruelty,” he said, adding that the smuggling of various endangered species was often a direct result of people unnecessarily consuming them as food, for medicine or as decoration.
University of Hong Kong law professor Amanda Whitfort said incorporating wildlife crimes under OSCO would give authorities more tools.
“It would allow the investigators to compel persons of interest to answer questions about the flows of money or the beneficiaries behind companies or the persons who are involved,” she said.
She said investigators would be able to go further, and “therefore trace the money and prosecute the people who are much higher up the chain than the mules at the bottom.”
Quat said she hopes the introduction of a private members' bill can put pressure on the government to address the issue head on.
“Maybe we might not be able to get it done within this year,” she said. “But at least we kick it off, and if the government picks it up, and the Security Bureau picks it up and it becomes a government bill, it will be much faster.”
“Even if we cannot complete it within this year, hopefully the amendment can be done within the next term.”