Hong Kong, a densely populated city, has become a safe haven for rare turtle species that are facing extinction due to hunting in other parts of Asia for Chinese medicine and as exotic pets. Unfortunately, poaching incidents are increasing in Hong Kong, which is putting the turtle populations there in danger. Sung Yik-hei, an associate professor at Lingnan University, has been monitoring the turtle population in the city for over ten years, and he believes that raising public awareness about the predicament of these turtles may be their last chance to prevent them from becoming extinct, even if it means breaking their secrecy.

Sung is trying to save populations such as the golden coin turtle, the beale’s-eyed turtle, and the big-headed turtle, which have become popular as exotic pets but require detailed enclosures to replicate their natural habitats. Although possessing an endangered turtle is a criminal offense under Hong Kong law, the demand for them remains high, resulting in a widespread illegal trade that involves both endangered and common species. According to the ADM Capital Foundation, which is a private research organization, the city has seized 17,900 live turtles and tortoises from illegal smugglers since 2015. Hong Kong legally imported over 4.3 million turtles and tortoises between 2015 and 2022.