An “animal-lover” who ran a pet cremation service was slapped with 160-hour community service order on Friday after he was found to be keeping a variety of endangered animals in a manner no different from “slow euthanasia”.
Tuen Mun Court, which also fined James Chai Chee-cheung’s company HK$35,000, heard the animals included a Jullien’s golden carp, a slow loris, three wood owls, two otters, four leopard cats, four giant salamanders, a black pond turtle, two hawks and a monitor lizard.
They were found in tin houses and cages at Chai’s registered addresses in Yuen Long during a police inspection on January 23, which found he had no licence to justify his ownership.
His defence counsel had previously argued he was an “animal-lover” who took in endangered species rescued from the black market out of fear the Hong Kong authorities would put them down since they did not have proper source documents.
But that was dismissed by magistrate Jacky Ip Kai-leung, who countered Chai had shown no respect for the animals’ right to survival in a serious case involving a variety of endangered species.
The magistrate likened the confinement of the animals to “slow euthanasia” as he explained how they cannot adapt to the human world.
“These endangered species belong in nature,” he said.
Still, he decided against his original plan to impose a jail term after reading pre-sentencing reports that recommended 80 to 160 hours of community service.
All of the animals have since been confiscated.
ADM Capital Foundation, a wildlife trafficking concern group, said in a statement it was shocked by the low penalty.
“This sends the wrong message to those involved in the illegal wildlife trade,” the statement said.
The court previously heard Chai’s Rainbow Bridge Pet Cremation Services had pleaded guilty to charges of keeping livestock in or on any premises within a livestock waste control area, and possession or control of specimens of Appendix I and II species.
Chai, 39, similarly pleaded guilty to one count involving Appendix I species and two others on Appendix II species.
Three other charges were withdrawn and settled by bind-overs for 12 months at HK$2,000.
At the time of his offence, the charge concerning Appendix I species carried a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment and a HK$100,000, while that involving Appendix II species is punishable by six months’ imprisonment and a HK$50,000 fine.
These maximum sentences were strengthened on May 1.