A museum operator in Tai O accused of illegally possessing a whale bone can put it back on display. The government has now decided to licence the exhibit, which was seized from the village museum last month.
Wong Wai-king, who founded the Tai O Culture Workshop, was notified by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department on Monday that she could apply for a two-year licence, costing $140, to keep the bone.
Last month conservation officers, acting on a tip, raided the museum and seized the two-metre piece of jawbone on the grounds that Ms Wong lacked a licence to possess the remains of an endangered species.
The bone was washed up at Tai O on Lantau in the 1980s and had been on display for two years.
'I received a call from the department on Monday saying it was willing to give it back to me in one or two days and allow me to display it if I get a licence. But they never explained why [they took it away].
'I think this is a waste of the taxpayer's money, [and] administrative malpractice. They simply shouldn't have taken the bone away.'
The department has confirmed the bone is part of the jaw of a whale of unknown species. Under laws to protect endangered species, people who wish to possess parts of an endangered animal must seek a permit from the department.
Ms Wong, 45, said: 'I really hope the department has not decided to give the bone back [merely] because of media pressure. I wish it [could] really understand how important this bone is to me, Tai O and the general public.'
A spokeswoman for the department said it decided not to prosecute Ms Wong after seeking advice from the Justice Department.
'We have investigated the case and found that Ms Wong's workshop is a society registered with the police. We concluded her possession of the bone does not relate to any commercial [endeavour],' she said.
The terms of the licence will require that Ms Wong not remove the bone from its place of display or transfer the licence to anyone else.