In 2015, a group of NGOs and wildlife experts joined forces to establish the Hong Kong Wildlife Trade Working Group and together fight the illegal trafficking of wildlife and animal products through Hong Kong. We met six members of the group, including Rosana Ng, environment campaign officer for the ADM Capital Foundation, to learn more about the criminal trade and how it can be stopped. Here, Ng reveals the projects that the ADM Capital Foundation is working on at the moment
How did you get involved in fighting wildlife crime? I came from a business background, in my past life I was in the garment manufacturing business. I did that for 15 years but I wasn’t interested in it anymore. Knowing about consumerism and the environmental damage that the industry is responsible for, I said “no, I’ve got to step out.”
After I left the garment industry, I researched animal issues and that’s when I came across the shocking practice of canned hunting in South Africa. It is a cycle of lion cubs being taken away from their mothers and placed in petting zoos as a tourist attraction, to the age when lions are fully grown and licenses are sold for hunters to shoot them in enclosures. It is horrific.
On March 14, 2014, 62 cities around the world hosted the Global March for Lions—a march against canned hunting. I got involved and ended up organising the Hong Kong march. 200 people showed up in Wan Chai to support. We marched to the South African Consulate and I delivered a memorandum to their Vice Consul General, that’s how I started to get involve in animal activism. I was overwhelmed to see how much Hong Kong people care about wildlife.
One thing led to another and my wildlife journey began. It was first sparked by lions, then I went on to fight for rhinos, elephants, chimpanzees, and sharks. I’ve been working for the ADM Capital Foundation since 2017.
Can you explain what the ADM Capital Foundation does? ADM Capital Foundation (ADMCF) is an impact driven foundation, where we see an environmental challenge that is not being addressed, we initiate and incubate initiatives to fill that gap or provide support to new efforts created by others.
ADMCF is strong in research, which helps us identify environmental challenges then work towards finding solutions. We have five focus areas: air quality, water security, marine ecology, wildlife trade and forestry conservation.
ADMCF originally convened the Wildlife Trade Working Group. How does that group work together? There are many species involved in the wildlife trade, one of the good things about the Wildlife Trade Working Group is that we’re not species-specific. We have experts with different background, NGOs, lawyers and academics, and we pull our strength together to work on wildlife trade related issues.
When I first joined ADMCF, my role was to gather momentum from the public sector to support Hong Kong’s ivory ban, especially during the Legislative Council public hearings. ADMCF’s first edition of Wildlife Crime Report is a composite report on Hong Kong’s role in the illegal wildlife trade.
What campaigns are you working on at the moment? ADMCF is working on version two of the wildlife crime report. This one is called “Trading in Extinction”. My specific role is to monitor our courts on how it handles wildlife crime. I record data such as types of species, quantities, trade routes, nationalities of criminals and the level of penalties that are given out in court.
On May 1, 2018, Hong Kong increased the maximum penalty for smuggling and trading endangered species, it is a critical time in monitoring our courts.
We’re also pushing for wildlife crime to be moved under “OSCO”, the Organized and Serious Crime Ordinance. Wildlife trafficking is beyond the mules and carriers that we normally see in court, we have not seen kingpins being arrested. Wildlife trafficking is organised by gangs and syndicates who move goods from one continent to another, involving money laundering, weapons and bribery. Law enforcement needs higher authorities to tackle wildlife crime.
What big cases have you seen recently? These are some cases that I have seen in 2018. In January, two men were arrested for smuggling Totoaba fish bladders from Mexico to Hong Kong. One man was carrying more than 17 kilograms of fish bladders worth roughly HK$2.76 million, the other carried 10.88kg, yet the sentences were just 14 weeks and 10 weeks imprisonment respectively.
On June 6, a Mainland Chinese man was arrested for carrying 5.9kg of rhino horn and 410gm of ivory from Johannesburg, South Africa to Hong Kong with an estimated value of HK$1.2 million. He was sentenced to just two months in prison. As Hong Kong raised its maximum penalty on smuggling and trading of endangered species from two years' imprisonment and a HK$2 million fine to 10 years' imprisonment and a $10 million fine, this two-month sentence did not reflect the increase.
After an outcry from the Wildlife Trade Working Group, we were glad to see prosecution requested a revised hearing and the sentence was increased from two months to four months imprisonment.
Since then, more wildlife trafficking cases were being moved from Magistrate Court to District Court. On October 24, 2018, under the new regime, a 21-year-old mainland Chinese was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment for carrying 3.1kg of rhino horn from Mozambique to Fujian via Hong Kong.
You were recently featured in a documentary called Stroop about the illegal trade in rhino horn. Can you tell us about that? I played a tiny part in the film. I met the two brave women who made the documentary, Bonne de Bod and Susan Scott, when I was in South Africa in 2015. When they came to Hong Kong and Vietnam in 2016 to film the Asia part of the documentary, I took them around in Sheung Wan.
These two women risked their lives, left their jobs and used up their savings to film the atrocity of rhino poaching in South Africa. The film won 10 awards when it ran through a round of screenings in the US. We are making arrangements to have the documentary screened in Hong Kong too—hopefully sometime in January 2019, when we release the second edition of our Wildlife Crime report.
Have you been to Africa to see the situation on the ground? I have been to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda. I met rangers and I know their job is hard and risky. They work for very little money. I’ve seen rangers outposted to remote areas for seven straight days and all they have to live on was inside their backpack.
When I look at wildlife crime, it’s not just about killing innocent animals. It is about human greed and organised activities to steal from our environment. Extinction is forever, we will never be able to repair or recover what we've lost. A gram of rhino horn is a rhino’s life gone. We must protect our wildlife from all angles, from education to conservation, and from law enforcement to legislation to prosecution.