Ivory haul proves a tough sell to schools

Some are reluctant to take confiscated tusks for educational purposes because of security issues as officials try to find ways to get rid of them

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 March, 2013, 4:11am

Conservation officials are having difficulty persuading schools to accept seized ivory offered them for education purposes because they are worried about security.

This emerged yesterday after the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it had dropped plans to incinerate 16 tonnes of confiscated tusks, in part because of the emissions the haul would create.

Department director Alan Wong Chi-kong said that they had offered about 30 schools a small amount of ivory, and would "proactively expand the number".

"But some schools are reluctant," Wong said. "They have to sign a contract with us about security issues. Some find it too troublesome."

The tusks are being stored at a secret government location as a growing number of seizures leaves the government looking for ways to dispose of them.

Wong said that as the individual pieces were heavy, 16 tonnes meant "not too many" of them.

He said one reason for dropping the incineration plan was that it would cause a lot of carbon emissions, as ivory needed to be burned at a high temperature for a long time.

Deputy director Leung Siu-fai said the ivory sent to schools was mainly in the form of smaller pieces and processed items, which "the pupils find more interesting".

But many of the tusks seized in recent years are whole. Leung said the officials were exploring what to do with them.

Meanwhile, manta rays and three shark species - oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and porbeagle - were formally included in an international treaty to protect endangered species as the annual conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ended in Bangkok.

A proposal to control the trade of their products was endorsed on Wednesday and ratified yesterday.

Marine ecologist Dr Andy Cornish said it was "incredibly good news for conservation of sharks". The endorsement would force the Hong Kong government to keep count of the number of those shark products imported, he said, noting that products from the three species were now grouped with other sharks.

On another animal-welfare issue, department assistant director Dr Liu Kwei-kin said some groups had suggested that neutering be required for all pet dogs. He said this was not feasible as some owners might want their dogs to remain "natural".

Liu said the department, which planned to issue licences to control dog breeding, could "adjust" its manpower if a large number of breeders surfaced.

He was responding to concerns that the department might not have enough resources to inspect all breeding places.

The department wants to issue three types of licences - for genuine hobby breeders who could keep up to four mother dogs, for people who have more than four mother dogs, and for those who want to breed their dogs once and sell the offspring.