Customs officials seized an illegal shipment of birds’ nests valued at some HK$850,000 (about US$108,000) being smuggled under the floorboard of a bus at Hong Kong’s Lok Ma Chau Control Point on Tuesday.
The seizure of the nests — which are made from the saliva of the aerodramus fuciphagus swiftlet, and valued as an ingredient for their supposed health benefits — came just a day after Hong Kong drew criticism in a new report on its outsized role as a hub for trafficking in wildlife products.
“Customs officers intercepted an outgoing coach at Lok Ma Chau Control Point for inspection yesterday and seized the batch of bird nest under the floor platform in the cabin,” a government statement on the bust reads, adding that the 53-year-old driver was arrested and that the investigation is ongoing.
If convicted, smugglers can face fines of up to HK$2 million (about US$255,000) and as much as seven years in prison.
However, a new report by the Hong Kong Wildlife Trade Working Group released on Monday faulted Hong Kong for not doing enough to combat the trade in wildlife products.
The report’s authors found that “not only is the trade in legal and illegal wildlife at a significant and unsustainable scale, it is likely to get worse”, and that as a major hub in the wildlife product trade, Hong Kong “should and could do more to disrupt the associated criminal activity.”
The report criticized lenient sentences handed to smugglers by Hong Kong’s courts as doing little to deter the booming trade, and faulted the city’s legal code for failing to treat “wildlife crime as the serious and organized criminal enterprise it has become.”
While the birds that produce the nests seized in Tuesday’s bust are not endangered, poaching and unsustainable harvesting practices may be changing that, the report says. What’s more, the trade invites corruption on the part of large producers, “including allegedly bribing officials to export more than the export permit states.”
Hong Kong is largest market in the world for edible birds’ nest, according to the report, and some 2.2 metric tons of the delicacy were seized by customs between 2013 and 2017.