School of Biological Sciences

Kadoorie Biological Sciences Building

The University of Hong Kong

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ABOUT: 

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 categorised 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 most recent 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 & U. 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. Webster.

 

Above left and right:

Rhino horn seized by Hong Kong Customs, May 17, 2016. Images from press release.

WILDLIFE TRADE

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.

OUR TEAM

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. 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 monsoonal Asia. His work includes identification of illegally traded turtles in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Amanda Whitfort

whitfort@hku.hk

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. 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 use trace element and radiogenic isotopes in a large variety of samples including sediment, seawater, groundwater, marine carbonate organisms, microfossil, from various environments. Dr Not is particularly interested in the understanding of 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.

Tracey-Leigh Prigge
Lab Manager/Research Associate

tprigge@hku.hk 

Johnny Richards
Research Assistant

jlr4@connect.hku.hk

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.

 

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 .

Chloe Webster
PhD student

webc2@hku.hk 

Astrid Alex Andersson
PhD student

alexast@connect.hku.hk 

After spending a year as a Research Assistant in the lab working on seized specimens for the Hong Kong government, Chloe has changed tact and sold her soul to completing a PhD. Her focus is currently on protecting the critically endangered Helmeted Hornbill from the prolific casque-carving trade. Using genetic techniques to determine geographic provenance and the effects of poaching efforts on the rapidly declining populations across Southeast Asia, she hopes to save the world one illegal casque at a time. 

 

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

Vicki Sheng
PhD student

vlsheng@connect.hku.hk

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.