the trade and what we do
ILLEGAL OR NOT?
The (Convention for Illegal Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement that determines the legality of species trade globally to ensure that the import, export, re-export and introduction does not threaten species extinction.
Species are categorized into three appendices (I, II, III) by meeting certain criteria, for example by taking into consideration a species' exploitation level in certain countries, as well as its conservation status, as determined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The inclusion of species is discussed in Conference of Parties (CoP) meetings (see here for the proposed changes from the CoP17 meeting, in September 2016).
Our lab members here at HKU are trained in various tools and techniques for identifying the legality of seized species. Therefore, we have a growing track record in support of wildlife trade law enforcement:
• listing of endangered species (humphead wrasse) to CITES
• genetic testing of trafficked eels; led to 40 arrests in EU
• field research and teaching programs in the Congo Basin
• AFCD contract for genetic identification of shark fins
• investigation of fraud and mislabeling of seafood in HK
• rhino horn DNA analysis with WWF & University of Pretoria
• market surveys of endangered fish, mammals & turtles
Suspected illegal catch of Critically Endangered European Eels (Anguilla anguilla) seized by Hong Kong customs. Image by C. Hatten.
Above left and right:
Rhino horn seized by Hong Kong Customs, May 17, 2016. Images from press release.
On top of the increasing pressure the natural world experiences from an ever-growing human population, thousands of animals and plants are taken from their natural environments every day and are traded as food, souvenirs and exotic pets. In particular, organisms are widely exploited in the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which drives a great deal of the trade in Hong Kong and China.
Although some natural products are traded under the law, many are not.
As global demand increases for these products, endangered species subject to trafficking are pushed closer towards extinction. There is an urgent need for greater public discussion leading to action in both countries of origin and countries of trade and consumption.
Vast quantities of illegally traded wildlife slip through Hong Kong's borders annually, to be sold within the city and beyond. Important products include iconic endangered species such as elephant ivory and shark fins, as well as less familiar products like pangolins and European eels.
Dried reptiles in Hong Kong’s markets, sold for use in TCM.
Image by A. Andersson.
Dr. Caroline Dingle
Dr. Tim Bonebrake
Dr. Dingle is an evolutionary ecologist who combines behavioural studies with genetic analysis and other tools to answer questions about the processes that create and maintain biodiversity, particularly in tropical ecosystems. She works primarily with birds, and is working on a species brought into Hong Kong as part of the international pet trade, the critically endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo. She is also currently developing projects on other widely traded species.
Dr. Bonebrake studies climate change impacts on tropical biodiversity but also has strong interests in broad aspects of urban ecology and conservation. While doing research in Cameroon, he experienced first hand the devastating impacts of wildlife trade from Africa to Asia, e.g. demand of pangolin scales in China drives the exploitation of pangolins in Cameroon. He is keen to work towards the conservation of such traded species, and draw awareness to these matters in both countries of export and import.
Dr. David Baker
Prof. David Dudgeon
Dr. Baker is a multi-disciplinary ecologist who studies how humans impact the ecology and evolution of the oceans. His focus is mainly on the declining coral reef ecosystems, combining tools in geochemistry, stable isotope ecology, ecophysiology, and molecular biology to answer questions relating to coral symbiosis and interactions with anthropogenic stressors. He is interested in the on-going work against the illegal trading of marine species such as protected coral species.
Professor Dudgeon is not only an Executive Councilor and Trustee of WWF-Hong Kong, but is Chair Professor in Ecology & Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong, where he has spent over 30 years researching the ecology, biodiversity and conservation of the animals that inhabit the streams and rivers of monsoonal Asia. His work includes identification of illegally traded turtles in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Prof. Yvonne Sadovy
Professor Sadovy has a strong background in the conservation of fisheries and threatened fish species, particularly, the Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus, in the tropical western Atlantic, and the Napoleon wrasses (Humphead wrasse), Cheilinus undulatus, of the Indo-Pacific region. One of her many achievements in her career has been in the founding and co-chairing of the IUCN World Conservation Union Specialist Group on Groupers and Wrasses, collaborating with conservation groups such as the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong, Wildlife Conservation Society, TRAFFIC - East Asia and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to name a few.
Associate Professor Amanda Whitfort of HKU’s Law Faculty specializes in wildlife crime. Her research is used to support criminal prosecutions in Hong Kong for wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty. Together with members of the Centre for Conservation Forensics and the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, she has developed over 50 victim impact statements for those endangered species most commonly smuggled into and through the Territory. She has been a member of the Hong Kong Bar since 2006.
Dr. Hannah Mumby
Dr Sung Yik Hei
Dr. Mumby trained in anthropology before studying behavioural ecology and life history evolution and its applications to conservation. Her group now addresses research questions from fundamental animal behaviour through to applications to conservation, taking into account both human and animal behaviour. Her main study organisms are African and Asian elephants, and she also has expertise in primates and pig species. Because of her focus on elephants, she has witnessed the illegal killing of elephants in Africa and Asia and is profoundly aware of the impact of the ivory trade in elephant range countries as well as importing regions. Her goal is to link science with policy, and to ensure rigorous study and collaboration concerning the human dimensions of wildlife trade.
Dr. Sung graduated from HKU and is an Assistant Professor at Lingnan University. He is a conservation biologist, studying how human activities affect wild animal populations and formulating means to minimize the impacts. His research focuses on the conservation and trade of freshwater turtles. He is a member of the IUCN SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. He also serves as a member of Hong Kong Government’s advisory bodies, including the Advisory Council on the Environment of Environmental Protection Department and the Endangered Species Advisory Committee of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
Dr. Benoit Thibodeau
Dr. Christelle Not
Dr. Thibodeau is an environmental geochemist specialized in the use of stable isotopes. His research interests are wide and encompass climate change, pollution, paleoceanography and proxy development. His role in the Conservation Forensics group will mainly be to advise on analytical techniques and data quality control.
Dr. Not is a geochemist who has used trace element and radiogenic isotopes in a large variety of samples including sediment, seawater, groundwater, marine carbonate organisms and microfossil from various environments. Dr Not is particularly interested in understanding the behaviour of these elements during their transfer from land to ocean. Within the Conservation Forensics group, she will use her geochemistry expertise to determine sources of origin of different species.
Lab Manager/Research Associate
Astrid Alex Andersson
Tracey is originally from South Africa where she received her BSc in Zoology and MSc in Genetics from The University of Pretoria. For her MSc she worked on the subcellular localization of Nonstructural protein NS3 of African Horsesickness virus. She also worked as a research assistant in the Forest Molecular Genetics Group at the University of Pretoria before moving to Hong Kong. She is our Molecular Lab Manager and supports several of the ongoing projects in our lab. She is particularly interested in using her molecular background to tackle wildlife trafficking in Hong Kong, using genetic data for species identification, determining of sample origin, and mapping out trafficking routes.
Astrid Andersson is doing a PhD at the University of Hong Kong on wildlife trade and conservation of the Critically Endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea). Her research involves bird market surveys, trade data analysis, developing forensic tools to tackle laundering in wildlife trade, ranger interviews, and field surveys of introduced and native cockatoo populations in Hong Kong and Komodo National Park, Indonesia.
She is part of the HKU Conservation Forensics Laboratory research team, a National Geographic Explorer, and a member of the Hong Kong Wildlife Trade Working Group. Previously she's worked on counter-wildlife trade projects with a number of NGOs, including Freeland, WildAid, TRAFFIC, and Humane Society International on topics ranging from traditional Chinese medicine to exotic pet trade. She's the founder of the community group Hong Kong for Pangolins and in her journalistic capacity she covers emerging wildlife, environment and conservation issues, and has contributed to TIME Asia, National Geographic China, and more. She tweets @AA_Andersson and instagrams @astrid_alex_andersson
Chloe Hatten completed her research MRes at University College London and moved over to Hong Kong to work as a Research Assistant in the Conservation Forensics Lab @ HKU. Here she developed molecular protocols and analysed confiscated wildlife specimens for government and NGO casework. After finding that there was little known information about a critically endangered bird that was being traded into Hong Kong, the Helmeted Hornbill, she started connecting with people across its Southeast Asian range to find out more. She subsequently progressed into a PhD on the topic Her goal: to help figure out where the hornbills are being poached, what casque/beak products are being bought and where, and to help create genetic and morphological protocols to assist wildlife forensic and conservation genetic labs with their enforcement and research efforts.
Chloe is a member of the IUCN Helmeted Hornbill Specialist Group, a task force of the IUCN-SSC Hornbil specialist group, and is part of the HKU Conservation Forensics Laboratory and of the Hong Kong Wildlife Trade Working Group. She aims to finish her PhD in 2021 and continue working and learning in this field of wildlife forensic science and conservation genetics.
With a main scientific interest in climate change biology and conservation physiology, Pauline spent more and more time studying lizards. When moving to Asia, she realized how wildlife trade was also bringing them closer to extinction. After nights in the field and days walking along wildlife markets in Hong Kong, she wondered whether the Tokay geckos (Gekko gecko) displayed in the shops were the same ones she observed in the wild, or whether they were imported from foreign sources. She hopes this work will help conservation of this silently- and fast-disappearing reptile throughout its range.
Félix Landry Yuan
Félix’s research explores the interface of socio-cultural values and ecological conservation within the context of anthropogenic effects on biodiversity. His approach focuses on the consideration and elevation of values held by affected communities while steering away from measures perpetuating post-colonial legacies. Currently, his work includes the cultural and ecological dynamics of snake soup consumption in Hong Kong.
Dive Master Vicki was educated in the US and prior to joining the team here in HKU, she traveled around Asia in a number of wild work experiences; diving with bull sharks in Thailand, training wolves, and working as a stunt double on films in Beijing. Vicki is using her neural network techniques to incorporate her love of molecular wildlife forensics into her newly-embarked PhD on corals.
Even Yee Man Leung
Even obtained her BSc degree at the University of Hong Kong, majoring in Ecology & Biodiversity. She worked on the genome evolution of an endangered plant, Thismia hongkongensis for her final year project. She was trained as an ecologist during her undergraduate studies, then she equipped herself with more molecular skills by being a research assistant at a biotechnology lab at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
She is now a PhD student starting her research on elephant and mammoth ivory trade. She will include both social and ecological perspectives in her research to view the issue holistically, aiming to connect the academia with society and provide practical insights in conserving endangered wildlife and tackling wildlife trafficking.
Originally from the UK, Tilley completed her undergraduate degree in Zoology from the University of Birmingham and her Masters of Research (MRes) degree in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation from University College London. She moved to Hong Kong in 2017 to work on the effect of urban noise on birds and wildlife trade. Her trade work focussed on analysing global trade trends for publication with the NGO TRAFFIC and she was also involved in market surveys for the pet trade.
She is now a PhD student in the Applied Behavioural Ecology and Conservation (ABEC) laboratory studying Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) olfaction and food preferences. She maintains a strong interest in wildlife trade and continues to collaborate with the Conservation Forensics team.
John is originally from the UK but has lived in Hong Kong since 2002, where he has worked in environmental consultancy and as manager of a nature reserve before joining the lab at HKU. He is interested in a wide range of wildlife, but especially birds. His work in the lab includes research into the songbird trade in Hong Kong and China, as well as preparing victim impacts statements for endangered species traded through Hong Kong.
Taneisha completed her undergraduate (BSc. Biochemistry and Zoology) and graduate studies (MPhil. Zoology) at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Jamaica. For graduate work, she conducted research in the field of Forensic Entomology. She looked at development and morphology of Dipteran larvae belonging to the family Calliphoridae. In addition to forensics and entomology, Taneisha has interests in conservation, natural history, microbiology, molecular biology and history. She is currently working as a Research Assistant in the Conservation Forensics lab at HKU.
Johnny grew up in Los Angeles and studied molecular biology here at HKU. With personal interests in ethnobotanical conservation, he is putting his molecular skills to work developing tools for rapid identification of trafficked plants and animals and DNA-based market analyses of illegally traded wildlife products. You can find him playing around with DNA in the lab, or outside talking to flowers .