Why Does the SVIS Initiative Work?
The SVIS Initiative provides law enforcement authorities with reliable scientific data, in form of Species Victim Impact Statements (SVIS), about the species encountered in wildlife crime cases.
The goal is to enable prosecutors to more effectively present their cases at court and help judges to make better sentencing decisions that reflect the seriousness of wildlife crime.
The SVIS Initiative, started in 2015 by University of Hong Kong law professor Amanda Whitfort, represents a collaboration between HKU’s Law Faculty, Dr Caroline Dingle of the Conservation Forensics Laboratory at the University of Hong Kong, and Dr Gary Ades, Head of Fauna at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden.
The Initiative has drafted Species Victim Impact Statements for over 100 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, plants and invertebrates.
Prof Whitfort has trained Hong Kong’s Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), Customs and Excise Department and Department of Justice on how SVIS can be used to more effectively present wildlife cases in court.
The use of SVIS has resulted in penalty increases of over 2,000% since the initiative began.
The tariff sentence for smuggling rhino horns increased from 2 to 12 months’ imprisonment, after information provided by SVIS was included in the prosecutor’s submissions to the court (HKSAR v Wei Bin DCCC 680/2018).
In 2021, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal used information provided by SVIS to the Department of Justice to assess threats to saiga antelope from poaching and smuggling for their horn. (HKSAR v Xiao Rongquiang CACC 79/2020).
The SVIS Initiative brings together experts from the School of Biological Sciences and the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, and Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden
The SVIS Initiative Founder
Amanda Whitfort is an Associate Professor in the Department of Professional Legal Education, Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong, a Solicitor and Barrister of the Supreme Court of Victoria and the High Court of Australia and a Barrister of the High Court of Hong Kong SAR.
Prof Whitfort specialises in criminal law, environmental law and animal law. Her research has led to significant changes to Hong Kong’s animal protection legislation and policy.
Prof Whitfort is dedicated to the transfer of academic knowledge to positive law reform. She provides regular training for enforcement and prosecuting authorities in Hong Kong and her research on wildlife offending has been utilized in sentencing by the Hong Kong judiciary.
In 2017, she was awarded the University of Hong Kong’s Knowledge Exchange Excellence Award in recognition of her work’s continuing outstanding societal impact.
Prof Whitfort’s current research focuses on demonstrating the seriousness of wildlife crime to Hong Kong’s judiciary and government to ensure that wildlife crime in Hong Kong is investigated and punished with the effectiveness it deserves.
Dr Caroline Dingle
Director of Conservation
Caroline Dingle is a Senior Lecturer in the Division of Ecology & Biodiversity, Faculty of Science, at the University of Hong Kong.
Dr Dingle’s research focusses on the impacts of human activities on biodiversity, including studies on urbanization and wildlife trade.
Current projects includes research on the impacts of trade on critically endangered species such as yellow-crested cockatoos and helmeted hornbills, and songbirds.
Dr Dingle works with a variety of collaborators and stakeholders throughout SE and Eastern Asia, including local and international NGOs and government forensics labs.
She is a member of two IUCN Specialist groups: Hornbill Specialist Group and the Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group.
Dr Gary Ades
Head of Fauna Conservation Department
Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens
Dr Ades had a career as a secondary school teacher in UK and Italy before returning to academic study in 1990 and obtaining a PhD in Animal Ecology from the University of Hong Kong.
He has had over 20 years of experience with conservation programmes and helped to establish the wild animal rescue centre, native animal public exhibits and conservation programmes for critically endangered species at Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden.
Current project work includes ex-situ Conservation Breeding of one of the world’s rarest turtles, the Golden Coin Turtle, carried out in partnership with the authorities. The rescue programme also provides support for wildlife crime enforcement efforts, through the short term captive care of seized wild animals, held for the duration of investigations and legal actions.
Dr Ades also advises on wild animal conflict resolution management, and has a keen interest in environmental enhancement programmes with the aim of promoting more informed decision making and minimizing impacts on nature.
HKU Conservation Forensics Laboratory
The SVIS Initiative Partner
The Conservation Forensics Lab was founded in 2015 by a group of researchers in the Division of Ecology & Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong.
The aim of this group is to provide a platform for interdisciplinary research to support conservation and enforcement efforts to curb illegal wildlife trade in Hong Kong and throughout the region.
The Conservation Forensics Lab relies on advanced technology such as stable isotope analysis, eDNA (environmental DNA), and network analysis to do innovative research that creates forensic and intelligence tools capable of determining the origin and the identity of wildlife products, aiding the law enforcement in investigating and persecuting wildlife crime.
Conservation Forensics Lab have contributed to successful prosecutions of wildlife crimes and to updates to the protected status of several species.
The Lab actively engages in communication and knowledge exchange with government, local and international NGOs, and other stakeholders.
These efforts were recognized with the Faculty of Science Knowledge Exchange Award (2019) and the University Excellence in Knowledge Exchange Award (2021).
ADM Capital Foundation has been a long standing partner of the SVIS initiative, providing support through in-court monitoring of sentencing decisions in Hong Kong and helping to fund our ecological research. The Foundation seeks to support the conservation of biodiversity in Asia, by working to address the legal and illegal trade of wildlife in the region.