Declining biodiversity is a major challenge that must be addressed through international cooperation, said Osvaldo Alvarez, President of the Basel Convention COP-15, speaking at the Sustainability Summit at the Chamber on 4 March. The event explored the current key threats to the earth’s ecosystem, as well as some of the ways the business community can help.
Chinali Patel, Consul – International Illicit Finance Policy Lead at the British Consulate General in Hong Kong, introduced the three stages of the illegal wildlife trade – source, transport and destination.
“The illegal wildlife trade is global, and it impacts all of us,” she said. Sectors that can become unwittingly involved include logistics, the financial sector, real estate and e-commerce.
The wide scope of the trade means that businesses need to be vigilant. Private-public partnerships are an effective way of combating illegal activities, and Patel and her colleagues are working with chambers of commerce to help raise awareness of what businesses can do.
For example, compliance officers in banks should be supported to report any suspicious transactions, like the heavy use of cash and large transfers of money. Patel and her colleagues have also launched a toolkit for the logistics sector to help them detect illegal shipping consignments.
Patel added that she hoped that the illegal wildlife trade would be included within Section 1 of the Organized and Serious Crime Ordinance in Hong Kong.
Francesco Ricciardi, Environmental Specialist, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department at the Asian Development Bank, noted that the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth biggest in the world, after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
“The value has been estimated at up to HK$180 billion, but this is probably the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We know it is growing globally, driven by rising demand in Asia particularly.”
In May last year, 26 tonnes of dried shark fins were seized in Hong Kong. “The Hong Kong police and customs are doing an excellent job trying to track down illegal trade,” Ricciardi said. “But they can’t check everything.”
He noted that the damage caused by the illegal wildlife trade goes far beyond its impact on endangered animals and plants. It also supports corruption and organized crime, and the presence of armed poachers brings instability and sometimes violent conflict.
“Bringing wild animals in close contact with humans is also a risk to human health,” he added.
On a brighter note, education is an effective way to tackle the problem at the destination. In Hong Kong, campaigning has successfully reduced the demand for shark’s fin among consumers.
Bosco Chan Pui-lok, Head of Kadoorie Conservation China Department at Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden, introduced the organization’s work outside Hong Kong protecting wild cattle. Chan explained that the healthy populations of buffalo and cows that can be seen in Lantau and Sai Kung are actually not wild breeds, they are feral domestic animals. The outlook for their wild counterparts is not so good.
“Sadly, all of Asia’s wild cattle are highly threated with extinction because of poaching and habitat loss,” he said.
One of the organization’s programmes is in the eastern plains of Cambodia, which is home to around half the global population of the endangered Banteng cattle. To tackle the rampant poaching and logging in the region, Kadoorie’s project has recruited young local biologists and also engaged the local community.
“This patrolling has been effective in combating illegal activity, with more than 400 loggers and poachers evicted and more than 600 traps removed since the launch of the programme in 2017,” Chan said.
A similar project in Yunnan Province to protect the Gaur – the biggest breed of wild cattle in the world – has successfully trained local people to become forest rangers.
Turning to sustainability on our doorstep, the MTR is already a key environmental player in Hong Kong. As the city’s public transit backbone, it provides safe, fast and efficient transport for millions of people every day. And as Andrew Mead, Chief Architect, MTR Corporation, explained, the network continues to expand, enabling more local people to get off the roads and onto the trains.
Environmental factors are a key consideration for new MTR stations, incorporating natural ventilation, less concrete, more planting, and in some cases, a green roof. These innovations can be seen at Hin Keng station, which opened last year.
“For the new stations being built, we aim to achieve a new level of sustainability integration with the community,” Mead explained.
MTR Corporation also manages a 32-hectare wetlands area at Lok Ma Chau that protects fishponds and marshes, and provides nesting sites for birds.
Turning to the current pandemic situation, Ricciardi noted that Covid-19 had raised awareness that fighting the illegal wildlife trade could help prevent future pandemics.
“This is an unprecedented time,” he said. “The current pandemic probably originated as a small transaction in a market somewhere. It shows the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on the global economy.”