LCQ12: Animal welfare

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 22):


     It has been reported that several incidents of animals (including tortoises, guinea pigs, rabbits and dogs) being abused en masse have occurred recently.  In addition, quite a number of people have released animals casually, thus affecting the local ecological environment, and quite a number of the released animals died as they were unable to adapt to the environment.  Regarding the protection of animal rights, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of reports on animal abuse received by the authorities and the respective numbers of persons prosecuted and convicted, in each year since January 2014; the maximum and minimum punishments imposed on those persons convicted;

(2) as it has been mentioned in the Policy Agenda published recently that the authorities will study the existing legislation related to animal welfare, and explore introducing a concept of positive duty of care on animal keepers, of the details of such work (including the legislation to be covered and the work schedule);

(3) given that in reply to a question raised by a Member of this Council on the 18th of last month, the Government indicated that regarding the suggestion to bring cats and dogs into the scope of section 56 of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap. 374) (which stipulates that when an accident involving a vehicle has occurred on a road and caused damage to an animal, the driver of that vehicle must stop the vehicle and report the accident to the Police as soon as possible), "we are reviewing the matter with reference to overseas practices. We will, upon conclusion of the review, consider amending the relevant legislation", of the progress of the review and the specific legislative timetable;

(4) of the number of complaints about activities on release of animals received by the authorities each year since January 2014, broken down by the species of the animals involved and the location where the release was conducted; whether they have, in response to such complaints, taken animal rescue operations and law enforcement actions; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) as places such as Taiwan, Macau and Singapore have reportedly enacted legislation to regulate acts of release of animals, whether the authorities will consider afresh enacting legislation to regulate acts of release of animals in Hong Kong, and prohibit the release of animals at locations of high ecological value; if not, of the reasons for that;

(6) as quite a number of people participating in activities on release of animals do not understand the possible impacts of such activities on the ecological environment, whether the authorities will step up public education with a view to reducing that type of activities;

(7) whether it has conducted studies on the impacts of releasing animals of alien species on those animals of local species and on the ecological environment; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(8) whether it will make reference to the practices of foreign countries and consider afresh establishing an animal police team to step up protection of animal rights; if not, of the reasons for that?

     Having consulted the Environment Bureau and the Security Bureau, my reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(1) Since 2014, the Hong Kong Police Force and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) have received the following number of reports or complaints on suspected cruelty to animals: 237 (2014); 236 (2015); 262 (2016) and 262 (the first three quarters of 2017).  According to the results of investigations, most of the cases did not involve cruelty to animals.  As at June this year, the number of cases involving cruelty to animals in which there was sufficient evidence for instituting prosecutions, and the number of convictions and the relevant penalties are tabulated as follows:
Year Number of persons prosecuted Number of convicted defendants Penalties
Fine Imprisonment
2014 29 24 From $2,000
to $20,000
From 6 days
to 1 year and 4 months
2015 11 10 $2,000 From 14 days
to 2 months
2016 15 11 $5,000 From 28 days
to 2 months
(January to June)
10 10 Not applicable From 10 days
to 2 months
(2) The Government attaches great importance to enhancing animal welfare. To further enhance the protection of animal welfare, we are studying the existing legislation related to animal welfare, such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap. 169), by making reference to international experience and trend and in the light of the actual situation in Hong Kong.  Apart from preventing cruelty to animals, we will explore the introduction of a concept of positive duty of care on animal keepers, having regard to the opinions previously expressed by stakeholders.
(3) Regarding the suggestion to cover cats and dogs in section 56 of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap. 374), we expect to complete the review on the matter within 2018.
(4) From 2014 to October this year, AFCD has received a total of six complaints on suspected improper release of animals, of which four involving tortoises, whilst the other species concerned included freshwater shrimp and fish.  Five cases were located in Tai Po and the location of the remaining case was not specified.  After conducting site inspections upon receipt of the complaints, AFCD could not establish whether there were any individuals conducted animal release activities, but some tortoises were found on site and then brought to AFCD’s animal management centre for observation.  Having assessed their condition by a veterinary surgeon, most of the tortoises were subsequently handed over to animal welfare organisations for adoption by members of the public.
(5) and (6) The Government has no plan to regulate animal release activities by legislative means at this stage.  Under the current circumstances in Hong Kong, the Government believes that it is important to strengthen public education so as to raise the public's attention to animal release, and advise them to think carefully before participating in any such activities to avoid affecting the ecological environment.  AFCD and three organisations concerned about animal release activities, namely the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology Foundation, have jointly designed a poster for public education on the potential impact of animal release activities.  The posters have been distributed and displayed at various locations in the community (including country parks, geoparks, markets, the Bird Garden and ferry piers), and have been sent to over 50 religious organisations.  The public is also reminded to consider taking other virtuous actions, such as tree-planting, voluntary services in animal welfare organisaions or green groups, etc. in lieu of animal release.  AFCD will continue to partner with the organsations concerned about animal release activities in the promotion work on this front. 
(7) According to the Hong Kong Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2021, the Government will build an inventory of invasive alien species and conduct a preliminary risk assessment to better understand the impacts of invasive alien species on the local ecology.  These actions are under preparation by AFCD.  At the same time, the Government will encourage universities and non-governmental organisations to conduct research studies on invasive alien species through funding support.  For example, in the year 2016-17, the Environment and Conservation Fund provided funding to a university to conduct a study on the impacts by exotic herpetofauna on the local ecology.
(8) Currently, a total of 13 police districts under the Hong Kong Police Force have assigned dedicated investigation teams to handle cases of animal cruelty.  Depending on manpower deployment, the nature and severity of cases and the crime trend of the district concerned, the commander of each police district may consider assigning cases related to animal cruelty to dedicated teams for investigation and analysis where necessary.  All cases of animal cruelty are handled by criminal investigation teams, whose members have received specialised training and possess sufficient experience and investigation skills to follow up such cases.  All cases handled by criminal investigation teams are supervised by a Chief Inspector of the Criminal Investigation Division to ensure consistency in investigation practices and attainment of professional standard required by the Police.
     In addition, to reinforce the investigation of cases of animal cruelty, the Police launched the Animal Watch Scheme in 2011 to enhance their close cooperation with AFCD, SPCA, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the School of Veterinary Medicine of the City University of Hong Kong, veterinarian associations and other stakeholders on four aspects, namely education, publicity, intelligence collection and investigation, to combat animal cruelty.

Ends/Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:50