Airline 'unlikely' to fly wildlife again
Hongkong Airlines said yesterday it was 'very unlikely' it would agree to transport wildlife again after being heavily criticised by animal welfare groups worldwide for flying live dolphins on its cargo planes.
The airline also promised to make a charitable donation to compensate for flying five dolphins from Osaka in Japan to Hanoi in Vietnam on January 16 - an operation that earned the company HK$850,0000.
In a series of remorseful letters to the various organisations that condemned the flight, which included a two-hour refuelling stop in Hong Kong, it said: 'We have all learnt a great lesson.'
However, the airline stopped short of giving a categorical undertaking not to transport dolphins in the future and campaigners said their protests would continue until it did.
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the Humane Society International warned of a possible passenger boycott unless it commits not to carry dolphins in future.
More than 5,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the airline to agree not to carry live dolphins since a staff memorandum detailing the revenue generated from the flight and showing a picture of the dolphins in the cargo hold was leaked last week.
The memorandum said the flight was the first of its kind for the airline but implied that it hoped there would be more business like it to come.
The five dolphins are believed to have originated from Taiji, the area featured in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove where dolphins not selected for the aquarium business are slaughtered every year.
Hongkong Airlines has also been bombarded with angry calls and e-mails. In its written replies, it said it had been 'totally unaware of the complexities' of the shipment but had now learned of the 'dark side' of the dolphin industry.
'It is very unlikely that Hongkong Airlines will support future shipments of wildlife for profit-oriented purposes,' it said. 'If cessation of flights of this nature helps in the protection of cruelty to wildlife, Hongkong Airlines will have no second thoughts.
'Hongkong Airlines will make a donation to a charitable organisation of its choice as a gesture of appreciation of its enlightenment.'
The airline declined to say where the dolphins came from and where they were delivered to. However, they are believed to have been destined for an aquarium or theme park.
Samuel Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, said: 'We are not going to back down in this campaign until they are fully committed to accepting no further dolphin shipments.
'We appreciate their stance being softened and we appreciate them listening to our concerns, but we want them to commit to a policy for the future. We will be happy to have a dialogue with them about this.'
Hung said he did not think the charity offer was appropriate and he did not believe any animal welfare group would want to accept such a donation under the circumstances.
'The two things shouldn't be linked,' he said. 'It is the least of our concerns in any case. We don't care where any donation goes to. We just want Hongkong Airlines to agree never to carry live dolphins again.'
In response to questions from the South China Morning Post, the airline declined to say how much money it intended to donate and to which charity or charities.
The number of years a dolphin can live