“Game meat” generally refers to the meat of any wild animals hunted for food or for sport. It is still consumed in many parts of the world. However, numerous studies also suggest that it is the source of various zoonotic diseases. Hence, we should avoid consuming game meat or patronizing food premises where game meat is served. The consumption of game meat is closely linked to the practice of hunting. This article will illustrate how our government has regulated hunting over the years, which eventually led to the abolition of hunting in Hong Kong.
The Practice of Hunting
To put it simply, hunting is the practice of pursuing and killing or capturing of wild animals. People hunt for different reasons. Some people hunt for food or for trade while some people hunt so as to remove predators which pose a threat to humans or domestic animals, or to remove pests which attack crops or livestock. At the same time, game hunting also has a long history of being a type of sport and a popular social activity among the male elites in the West. After Hong Kong became a British colony in the mid-nineteenth century, game hunting gradually became popular among the male elites in Hong Kong as well.
Early Legislation to Regulate Hunting
An Ordinance for the Preservation of Birds (No.1 of 1870) came into force on 30th March 1870. It was one of the earliest attempts by our government to regulate the practice of hunting in Hong Kong. Its preamble provided the background of its enactment as follows:-
“WHEREAS the destruction of birds has of late greatly increased, and it is expedient to make provision for their preservation, and also for checking the frequent discharge of fire arms in the neighbourhood of dwelling houses to the annoyance of the inhabitants…”
In 1885, our government first introduced a licensing system through the Wild Birds and Game Preservation Ordinance (No. 6 of 1885). In 1914, Schedule C of the Wild Birds and Game Preservation Ordinance (No. 18 of 1914) provided that the licence fee shall be HK$10 and the licence shall not be transferable. Also the licensee must carry the licence with him when engaged on shooting expedition and renew the licence from time to time.
In 1922, the Wild Birds Ordinance (No.15 of 1922) came into force. It divided the birds into three classes, namely game, vermin and all other birds (neither game nor vermin). Game could only be shot under licence and with certain restrictions such as those relating to the close season. Vermin could be shot at any time by anybody without any licence. As for those birds which were neither game nor vermin, they were absolutely protected and could only be killed under authorization of the Governor for scientific and other purposes. In order to protect the public from the hunting activities, this Ordinance further prohibited the shooting of birds within two hundred yards of any inhabited houses in today’s Central area, the Peak District and part of the Kowloon Peninsula.
Hunting in Hong Kong in the 1930s
“The Hong Kong Naturalist” was a quarterly illustrated journal published between the early 1930s and the early 1940s with a focus on the flora and fauna in South China including Hong Kong. Several of its articles shed light on the hunting scene in Hong Kong at that time. For example, there were articles introducing popular game birds in Hong Kong like snipe (Vol. 1 No. 3 (1930 August)) and woodcock (Vol.1 No.4 (1930 November)). It also contained accounts of the shooting experience from readers or correspondents (“Shooting Notes” from Vol. 1 No. 4 (1930 November) and Vol. 2 No. 4 (1931 November)). There was another article in Vol.3 No.1 (1932 March) written by Dr. Geoffrey Herklots about the killing of a leopard in a village in the New Territories.
In 1936, the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (No.56 of 1936) came into force. It prohibited the killing, taking or possession of pangolin, otter and such other wild animals as the Governor in Council might see fit to add to its Schedule. It also prohibited the sale, exposing for sale, or possession for sale, of the carcass, flesh, fur, skin or scales, or any part thereof, of any such wild animal killed or taken in Hong Kong.
Hunting in Hong Kong after the Second World War
In view of the serious depredation of the wildlife brought about by trapping and indiscriminate shooting, the Wild Birds and Wild Mammals Protection Ordinance came into force in 1954 to tighten up the law in wildlife protection. Our government designated for the first time three areas as sanctuaries for wildlife in which hunting was absolutely prohibited as was also the carrying of firearms, except by the military and the police in the course of their duty. It also prohibited shooting in the vicinity of roads and houses in the New Territories.
Since the end of the Second World War, Hong Kong had developed rapidly and its population had greatly increased. By the early 1970s, urbanization and the road network were extended into the New Territories. Furthermore, the number of people visiting the New Territories for recreational purposes like hiking and camping had been increasing. As such, the areas in which hunting could take place in safety had constantly decreased and our government considered hunting to be incompatible with the presence of large number of people in the countryside.
Against this background, the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Chapter 170) came into force in 1976 and repealed the Wild Birds and Wild Mammals Protection Ordinance of 1954. The new Ordinance still empowered the Director of Agriculture and Fisheries Department (the “Director”) to issue hunting licences. However, it also prohibited hunting in extensive areas and made it an offence to shoot at any wild animal within 100 yards of an inhabited house or a road normally used by motor vehicles.
At the same time, the Country Parks Ordinance came into force in 1976 as well and our government began to designate areas as country parks. Hunting was totally banned in country parks, except in special circumstances when permits would be issued.
Abolition of Hunting in Hong Kong
Towards the end of the 1970s, the issuance of hunting licences had been a matter of increasing concern to our government. Eventually, on 4 December 1979, the Executive Council advised and the Acting Governor ordered that all forms of hunting shall be prohibited in Hong Kong and that appropriate amendments shall be made to the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Chapter 170).
In view of this decision and the overriding consideration of public safety, the Director decided to exercise his discretion to refuse the application for renewal of hunting licences under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Chapter 170) with effect from 9 December 1979 (the “Decision”). The aim of the Director was to effect a steady reduction in the number of hunting licences in force.
Hong Kong Hunters' Association Ltd.
Unsurprisingly, the members of the Hong Kong Hunters' Association Ltd. were upset by the Decision. In Re the Hong Kong Hunters' Association Ltd. [HCMP 57/1980], the Hong Kong Hunters' Association Ltd. sought (i) a review of the Decision (ii) an Order of Certiorari to quash the Decision; (iii) an Order of Mandamus to the Director requiring him to issue and renew hunting licences to the members of the Hong Kong Hunters' Association Ltd.; and (iv) a declaration that the Decision was contrary to law.
The Director refused to renew the hunting licences even though legislation had not yet been passed to give effect to the decision of the Executive Council on 4 December 1979. The Court was of the view that by choosing the policy decision of the executive branch over the law laid down in the ordinance, the Director acted beyond his powers and failed to exercise his discretion under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Chapter 170), thereby acting contrary to the provisions of the law. The Hong Kong Hunters' Association Ltd. was granted the declaration sought on this motion.
However, the victory of the Hong Kong Hunters' Association Ltd. was short-lived. Soon after the judgment, our government amended the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Chapter 170) with the effect to ban hunting entirely. The Director would only permit hunting in special circumstances such as, for example, when it was necessary to control the population of wild pigs or other species of animal which might be causing a serious nuisance. This has remained the position today.
Recent Ban on Hunting Wild Pigs
Due to the lack of natural predators in Hong Kong, the number of wild pigs has been growing. They regularly appear in the residential areas and cause nuisances and environmental hygiene problem. Until recently, there were two wild pig hunting teams formed by civilian volunteers and they were responsible for conducting wild pig hunting operations when notified by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
However, due to an increasing concern for animal welfare, the wild pig hunting operations has sparked public outcry and they have been suspended since early 2017. At the same time, our government has been experimenting with new methods to deal with the wild pig problem. For example, it has launched a pilot program to provide contraceptive treatment to the wild pigs with the aim to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of contraceptive vaccine and sterilization surgery in controlling the wild pig population.
The abolition of hunting certainly has a positive effect in protecting the wildlife in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, illegal hunting of animals by animal traps has remained a problem. Some people are still laying traps like gin traps, cage traps and snares to illegally catch wild animals for food. Feral dogs and cats are also getting hurt by these traps. More effective enforcement by the authorities is certainly necessary to tackle this problem.