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Karen Mok vs. Canadian Sealers

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Photo: Paul Darrow

Hong Kong singer/actress Karen Mok lies next to a harp seal pup on an ice floe in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada in this photo taken March 6, 2009. The trip was part of the Humane Society of the United States protest against the annual Canadian seal hunt.

Hong Kong - Top Hong Kong singer and actress Karen Mok was making plans Monday to fly to Canada to visit colonies of young seals, days before an annual hunt in which 300,000 will be slaughtered. The trip is being organized by the Hong Kong Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) as part of a campaign lobbying for a ban on the trade of seal products in Hong Kong and China.

Mok, 38, will be accompanied on her March visit by a film crew to shoot a mini-documentary of her trip, which the SPCA plans to use in the campaign.

The SPCA agreed in January to join the animal-welfare group Humane Society International in the campaign to stop the trade of seal products in Hong Kong, following similar bans in other countries.

Executive director Sandy Macalister said that Mok's huge popularity in Hong Kong and China would be a big boost to the campaign. "The seal hunt is a dreadful thing, and a lot of people have got no idea that Hong Kong is in any way connected," he said.

"Karen has been an anti-fur ambassador of ours for a long time. She's a big name here and on the mainland, and it is good to get her behind the campaign."

Mok has been a long-time supporter of the anti-fur campaign and last year was voted onto the best-dressed list of the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in recognition of her refusal to wear animal skins.

Mok said that she hoped her Canada trip and the footage documenting it would help people in Hong Kong and China understand the "horrendous" nature of the seal hunt.

"Seals are such lovely creatures, and who needs seal fur, or any fur for that matter, when there is so many different fabrics we can use to keep us warm. There really is no point to fur," she told Deutsche-Presse Agentur dpa.

"I see the trip as an adventure. I'm really looking forward to getting out there and shooting a documentary to let people know what is happening. Hopefully it will put an end to this torture.

"Hong Kong people are compassionate. There are a lot of animal lovers here, and I think they will react strongly. Seal products are banned in most parts of the world, but there is still a market in Asia, especially China and Japan, and Hong Kong can play a part in stopping this terrible torture of animals."

Mok follows in the footsteps of other celebrities such as Paul McCartney in supporting the campaign to end the seal hunt, which takes place every spring and is managed by the Canadian government.

Every year around 300,000 of the young seals are killed by licensed fishermen using rifles or hakapiks - a club with a metal hook.

The furs are sold for around 42 US dollars each and usually end up as trim on collars and cuffs. The meat is sold mainly for animal consumption, while the oil is used in the production of omega 3 oil supplements.

Trade to Hong Kong is comparatively small, amounting to only around 100,000 US dollars of the 15-million-dollar world trade in 2006, according to Canadian government statistics.

But the Humane Society believes that following a ban on seal- product trade in Europe, the fur trade is now looking to boost its market in China, which in 2006 was worth around 700,000 US dollars.

The Canadian government insists the hunt is not cruel and claims independent studies show that the methods used are humane. The industry is a valuable source of income to the native Inuits, generations of whom have lived off the land and sea, hunt supports argue.

Loyola Sullivan, ambassador for fisheries conservation in Canada, urged Hong Kong people to get all the facts before making a decision on the issue.

"If the seal products are banned, then there is justification to shut down every hunt in the world and stop the export of all other such products. I say that because seals are killed as humanely as any other animal, and we follow the highest standards put forward by experts," he said.

"Canada values its relationship with Hong Kong, and I sincerely believe the people in Hong Kong are knowledgeable and will make decisions and do things based on fact. I don't anticipate any irrational decision in Hong Kong."

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