Abandoned Pets Crisis Amid Hong Kong's Emigration Wave

As a growing number of people pack up and leave the former British colony, the question arises: What to do about the family dog?

A dog rescued in Hong Kong, in August 2020.
A dog rescued in Hong Kong, in August 2020.
Lin Kexin

HONG KONG — Sesame, an 11-year-old poodle, has gone to the kennel twice now, and it's clear she didn't appreciate the experience. She came home both times with tummy trouble, throwing up and with a loss of appetite.

The animal's owner, Florence, organized the kennel visits as a kind of "training" experience, a way to prepare Sesame for an upcoming trip to Taiwan, where the family plans to emigrate. She'll have to travel alone in a plane's cargo hold. That, plus a quarantine upon arrival, will take at least seven days.

Florence is part of an unprecedented wave of emigration taking place in Hong Kong, and as Sesame can attest, the shift is impacting pets as well.

In order to take their cats, dogs, turtles or lizards with them, many emigrants take the trouble of going through the complicated veterinary regulations of their destinations. Many pay tens of thousands of HK dollars to specialized agencies to deal with pet-immigration procedures. Others even spend millions to hire a private jet, taking themselves and their pets on board.

The number of pets abandoned in 2020 has increased by 15%.

But there are also plenty of people who leave their animals behind. Indeed, in the past six months, the Lifelong Animal Protection charity (LAP) in Hong Kong has received many requests from people looking for somewhere to leave their pets. And by at least one count, the number of pets abandoned in 2020 has increased by 15% compared to previous years.

The phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology Foundation — HKHerp, for short — which occupies a small space (just 300-square-foot) in an industrial building in Kwun Tong.

Huang Lanyan, one of the foundation's volunteer workers, is struggling to find new owners for a massive number of Brazilian tortoises, box turtles, corn snakes, ball pythons, and taiga lizards. Since last year, the number of abandoned reptiles and amphibians has soared from fewer than 10 cases a year to more than 10 per month, HKHerp reports.

Business is booming

The emigration wave is keeping Chen Juntao busy too. He runs pet migration business, and says that in the past year alone, he's helped send off more than 500 cats and dogs, about half the number he handled in the previous four years combined. "And we have still have 300 hundred more pets to send away," Mr. Chen explains.

The business owner notes that the capacity of airlines for pets is very limited for the moment. British Airways is a case in point. The past year, the price of pet seats has increased five times while the number of pet flights decreased. "What concerns our clients most is the health of the animal and the worry that there's no seat for their pets," he says.

For a dog or cat destined for the United Kingdom, Mr Chen's services provide for the animal's quarantine, flight and custom clearance, and the cost can range between 30,000 to 100,000 HK dollars ($3,800-$12,800), depending on the size of the animal. Also, if the client is particularly well-off and loving of their dear pets, a pampered private jet or chartered group service can be provided.

CLaws in Hong Kong also make it hard to restrict pet-abandoning behavior.​ — Photo: Winson Wong/South China Morning Post/ZUMA

In the case of Florence, she says she won't fly "unless Sesame is flying with us." She is so worried that the 11-year-old dog will have trouble breathing in the cargo hold.

Recently, a client of Chen emigrated to the United States with two French bulldogs. He had taken a private charter plane and hired a pet sitter to accompany the flight. The bill for the travel expenses, pet immigration services, and the quarantine fees incurred after the pet sitter's return to Hong Kong was a lavish 2 million HK dollars (nearly $260,000).

Mathew, another pet migration services agent as well as a veterinarian, says that this kind of service has existed for a long time. The difference is that until recently, most of the clients — at least in the case of Matthew, who launched his company in 1994 — were expatriates sent to work in the former British colony.

He was helping people import pets, in other words. Not export them. Now, Matthew's clients are mainly local people moving away to Britain, Canada or Australia.

Liang Wenyun has also spent a number of years in pet migration services, and says that what she finds most remarkable is the wide range of pet species that urban residents keep — spiders, peacocks, ants, guinea pigs, lizards and even goats, you name it.

Each species, furthermore, requires services that are specifically adapted. There's the physical condition of the animals to consider, obviously, but also the import and export policies of each government. "For example, to insert a chip or impose a ring on a parrot that weighs only 70 grams would be a considerable burden for the bird, so it's best to listen to a veterinarian's advice," Ms. Liang explains.

In other cases, certain animals simply can't be transported from one place to another. A Brazilian tortoise, for example, is considered an invasive species by the UK government and therefore prohibited from entry.

It amounts to a death penalty for the dog.

Complicating matters for would-be emigrants are the animal-related horror stories. There have been reports of pets being suffocated in the aircraft cargo hold on the journey, and of pet agencies disappearing after taking money.

More often, though, it's the pet owners who do the disappearing. Aunt Qi is the owner of nine pet huts, called the "Comfortable Nest," which house abandoned dogs and also provide temporary respite care for dogs as well as cats.

Since the end of last year, more and more people called up Aunt Qi to ask whether or not she'll take over the pets they no longer want to keep. Meanwhile, the number of pet owners who entrusted her with the temporary care of their dogs, but who vanished after a few months, has also soared.

One of the couples who put their dog in her hands last year phoned recently to say that they are emigrating and suggested that Aunt Qi send off their dog to the Hong Kong government's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).

"This amounts to a death penalty for the dog," says Aunt Qi.

In accordance with Hong Kong law, the AFCD will "humanely treat" stray animals sent to the institute after an assessment. If the animal is not taken by an animal welfare shelter or not claimed within four days, it will be put down.

Current laws in Hong Kong also make it hard to restrict pet-abandoning behavior. According to the Cap. 421 Rabies Ordinance, "An animal keeper who abandons animals without a reasonable explanation is a breach of law." But as the Hong Kong Legislative Council Press Bulletin shows, due to the difficulty of producing evidence, there have been no successful prosecutions in the past five years.

"Humans have a lot of things surrounding them. But for the animal," says Alice, who works for an animal welfare association, "it only has its owner."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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