Donated elephant tusks teach schoolchildren reality of a cruel trade

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 3:56am

Pupils at the Belilios Public School in North Point received an unusual gift from the government last year: dozens of illegal items seized by customs, including more than 50kg of ivory.

The gift is part of government efforts to dispose of tonnes of elephant tusks and parts of other endangered species that were confiscated from smugglers - who are increasingly using the city as a transit hub for the contraband.

Most of the items - displayed in glass cabinets near the sports hall - would fetch a tidy sum on the black market. They include a pair of rhino horns, hippopotamus teeth, cheetah skins and an entire stuffed pangolin, also known as a scaly anteater.

But the most eye-catching exhibit is two giant elephant tusks, weighing close to 30kg.

The tusks, as well as two shelves of ivory carvings and ornaments, bring a tear to the eyes of Form Six pupil Christine Cheng Lok-yi.

"It's educational but it's also a bit sad, because it means the tusks of the elephants have been cut off," said the 17-year-old, who is part of the school's environmental education committee.

Form Five pupil Lucy Hon Wan, 15, agreed. "This is a very precious opportunity to be in contact with a rare species," she said.

"By seeing them, we can actually feel the pain of the elephant, so we can be more sympathetic and protect them."

The items went on display about a year ago, and pupils use them during biology lessons to understand the conservation threats to endangered species.

Since 2010, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has donated tusks and other ivory items to 30 schools and universities. These donations were but a minute portion of the total amount of ivory being stored, a spokeswoman said.

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, confiscated specimens such as elephant ivory should be used for scientific, educational or enforcement purposes.