The bodies of 12 pet dogs still in their cages washed up on Hong Kong beaches on Wednesday and Thursday, and a source said police believe smugglers may have drowned the animals.
Last week, authorities seized 12 other dogs along with HK$37 million (S$7 million) worth of goods in an anti-smuggling operation, and are investigating if the pets were being taken to mainland China to be reunited with their owners, after being shipped to Hong Kong from overseas.
On Thursday, nine dead dogs trapped in two cages were discovered on Lamma Power Station Beach at 7.30am, with three more carcasses found on St Stephen’s Beach in Stanley the day before.
Another source said the two cases could be linked to a joint anti-smuggling operation mounted by police and customs officers off Mui Wo, on Lantau Island, last Friday night.
“We believe the cages carrying the dogs were among some cargo that were thrown into the sea from one of two speedboats used by smugglers to avoid being arrested during the high-speed sea pursuit with law enforcers,” he said.
He said the 12 pet dogs were thought to have drowned before the cages washed ashore.
During the operation, one of the speedboats managed to escape Hong Kong waters, heading toward the mainland. Officers intercepted the other speedboat and arrested two mainland men on board.
On the vessel, officers found 12 pet dogs, along with HK$37 million of goods that included abalone, electronic goods, red wine and cosmetic products. The dogs, including Labradors and poodles, had identification microchips implanted.
The police source said they were still investigating whether the nine dogs found on Thursday “were also microchipped and registered in Hong Kong”.
He said he did not rule out the possibility the dogs were being smuggled to be reunited with their owners, but said it was also possible the dogs were being smuggled to be sold on the mainland.
The source said officers were trying to track down the dogs’ owners.
“Some mainlanders have returned to mainland China from overseas, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic,” the source said. “But their pets could not be shipped back to the mainland because of stringent import restrictions amid the pandemic.
“It is possible that their pets were shipped into Hong Kong from overseas before being smuggled into the mainland by sea.”
In Hong Kong, cruelty to animals carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a fine of up to HK$200,000.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.