Wildlife Trade Monitoring
Hong Kong is a major trade hub for many wildlife commodities, such as ivory, turtles as well as the myriad of species used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Import volume of shark fins, seahorses and sea cucumbers to Hong Kong is the world’s largest. Hong Kong ‘s Import of Chinese herbal medicine amounted to over HKD 2 billion annually, with majority of the material still sourced from the wild. It is estimated that wildlife is now being harvested from the tropical forest in Southeast Asia over six times of its sustainable rate. Regulating wildlife trade is now one of the global conservation priorities.
Major challenges for law enforcement against wildlife crime include species identification and source tracking, especially for processed items that lost most diagnostic features, such as traditional Chinese medicines and fish fins. Genetic technology is frequently applied to facilitate investigation. We developed DNA method to identify the species of medicinal orchids from heavily processed market samples. The Conservation Genetic Laboratory in FLO department also receives confiscated wildlife from the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department (AFCD) and Hong Kong Customs, and conduct genetic analysis to verify species identity and determine possible origins. The result can inform investigation on the illicit trade operation, including trade route and the scale of exploitation in terms of number of source populations. KFBG also conducts market survey to monitor trade in endangered species; reviews wildlife trade status with customs statistics and remains alert to the emergence of unsustainable wildlife trade.