The government on Wednesday said it plans to outlaw the releasing of animals into habitats where they are likely to suffer, as part of a tightening of animal welfare legislation.
In a reply to a legislator's question, Environment and Ecology Secretary Tse Chin-wan said officials plan to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, and the bill should be submitted to Legco at the end of the year or early next year.
Under the proposed changes, activities like releasing freshwater fish or turtles into the sea will become an offence.
Tse added that they plan to raise penalties for animal cruelty in order to increase the deterrent effect.
He said while the practice of improper animal release is not as prevalent nowadays, there is room for the government to do more apart from conducting publicity work and inspecting popular locations for releasing animals during certain festivals.
"The [Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department] staff conducted an inspection on the recent Buddha's Birthday holiday, and no cases related to animal cruelty were found," he said.
"From the perspective of conservation, since species currently released are generally some common seafood and turtles, there is no sign of significant adverse impact caused by animal release activities on the local ecology."
An assistant professor specialising in conservation biology from Lingnan University, Sung Yik-hei, said enforcement could be difficult.
"When you see people release animals, at that point, at that time it is hard to say they suffered unnecessary pain," Sung said.
Tse also said the authorities are promoting the release of aquatic species into the sea and rivers on a trial basis, in the hope of further reducing the release of other creatures.
The official said the practice of scientific restocking can improve the marine and riverine environment.
Sung said ongoing research shows competition between exotic and native turtles which could have a negative impact on the ecosystem.
“The exotic turtles, when they are released into the wild or other animals, they can hybridise with native animals, which means something we call genetic pollution. This will even be more permanent,” he said.
The academic suggested that the authorities install surveillance cameras in areas where animal releases commonly occur, and even trace the stores that sell animals meant for mercy release.
Last updated: 2023-05-31 HKT 21:59