Wildlife Trade in Hong Kong

Report: "Wildlife Crime: Is Hong Kong Doing Enough?"

According to HKSAR Government Environment Bureau statistics, the number of cases involving the illegal trade of endangered species had increased by 350% between 2010 and June 2014.

In December 2015, the SPCA HK, together with 13 other concerned NGOs and individuals authored a report to make a strong case to the government that much more has to be done to regulate the trade in endangered species through Hong Kong.

Click to enlarge infographic Click to enlarge infographic Read the 2015 report here

In January 2019 the SPCA HK contributed to a follow up report highlighting the scale of the illegal trade and trafficking – making three major recommendations improved investigation and enforcements.

Click to enlarge infographic Click to enlarge infographic Read the 2019 report here


Attitudes of Hong Kong people have changed towards consuming wildlife. Prior to 1980, the wildlife trade in Hong Kong was a bustling and open one. A report from the 1970's estimated that 10,000 mammals and 10,000 raptors and owls were traded in Hong Kong annually. However raised awareness and enforcement dramatically reduced this trade. A survey conducted in 1996 found that the percentage of Hong Kong people who consumed wildlife had dropped to 30% (from 70% in 1989) (Lau, 2009).

Despite a change in attitude, snake and turtle products remain popular in Hong Kong. Come winter, numerous snake shops open all over the territory. Gui Lin Gao or Turtle Jelly is also sold by numerous shops and is eaten throughout the year and this demand continues to drive down the populations of many Asian species.

Unfortunately attitudes in China have not followed Hong Kong's example. The 1996 survey found that as China has developed and its people became more 'educated', the amount of wildlife consumed has increased, rather than decreased. Consequently, the volume of wildlife consumed has increased sharply, drawing in animals from further and further away.

Sharkfin Trade

Hong Kong is responsbile for importing 50% of the worlds Sharkfin trade, which is responsible for the deaths of 70 million sharks a year. Find out more about the sharkfin trade.

The Turtle Trade

Asian turtles of all species are traded through Hong Kong in vast numbers, mainly for food. In 2001, the AFCD intercepted its largest shipment of live turtles. An estimated 10,000 dehydrated and dying Southeast Asian turtles were seized. The shipment was estimated to be worth some HK$3.2 million and weighed more than 10 tonnes. Of the 10,000 animals, an estimated 2000 had died in transit and the 7000 or so left were weak and dehydrated. All these animals were destined for the food market in South China.

After a massive rescue effort by Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden and some 180 volunteers, 4000 surviving animals were shipped to zoos and conservation agencies in Europe and the United States. Such rescue efforts can be very expensive- freight charges are expensive (some shipments were 6 tonnes in weight) and the volume of drugs needed to treat all the animals immense. The rescuing and re-homing efforts would not have been possible without donations from the concerned public, private companies, airlines and support from the Hong Kong government, international conservation groups and zoos (Ades & Crow, 2002).

The CITES Management Authority of China has in place measures to reduce the trade between China and a lot of the originating SE Asian Countries, but the volume is still of grave concern.


Drinking snake soup remains popular in Hong Kong. However, the skinning and killing of live snakes for their bile and meat is cruel and unnecessary. Often, the animals are skinned while alive and their bile is extracted and used to make wine.

Despite the presence of many “snake farms” in China, almost all snakes in such farms are caught from the wild, kept in “transfer centres” and fed to increase their size before being sold. Researchers found that some 500,000 to 600,000 juvenile snakes are caught from the wild annually before being sent to a “snake storehouse” in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region (Zhou and Jiang, 2004).

Captive breeding of snakes in China is not commercially viable and thus wild populations are under great pressure from the increasing rates of consumption.  

In 2000, it was estimated that more than 7 to 9 million tonnes of snakes are consumed in China annually. The increase in the volume of snakes from Southeast Asia suggests that the supply of snakes from China has been exhausted or that domestic demand has increased (or both).

Consumption of snake bile and products is not without its risks. In 1998, the Consumer Council of Hong Kong reported that three Taiwanese men had contracted acute hepatitis from consuming snake bile for a week. It also reported that in 1995, a Zhejiang man had been infected with an unknown snake parasite


Hong Kong is a huge importer of wild birds. In a review of the songbird trade by Nash (2003) it was documented that estimates of annual songbid sales in Hong Kong were 100,000. In the same report the figures for imports between 1990 and 1992 were 250,000 for songbirds and for 700,000 for pheasants (food trade). In the early 1990s, Hong Kong was the largest importer of birds from Indonesia, importing an estimated 31% of all birds exported. Indonesia was the largest single source of birds traded in Hong Kong after China. Hong Kong was a major transit point for the bird trade, where huge numbers of birds were traded between Southeast Asia and China. Numbers passing through Hong Kong may have possibly declined in recent years due to the direct trade with China.