Tusks seized by Macau authorities in bags bearing Hong Kong government seals were legally traded hippo tusks, not elephant ivory, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said yesterday.
A spokeswoman said the tusks had not been stolen, as had been feared, and its stocks were intact.
The three bags were among a cargo of suspected ivory valued at about HK$10 million that was seized by Macau customs officers from a grounded speedboat on Sunday.
The department said hippo tusks, unlike elephant ivory, can be traded subject to permits and licence controls. The spokeswoman also said that after cross-checking with permit records, the seals were genuine.
'They are genuine seals of ours as the tusks can be legally traded. Every lot of these endangered species that requires a permit to export will be inspected and sealed,' she said.
The spokeswoman would not say it the department would be getting in touch with the owners of the three bags to find out how they ended up with other tusks from unknown origins.
So far this year, there have been 43 export shipments of hippo tusks from Hong Kong, including three to Macau, but the department did not disclose the size of the shipments.
Macau customs officers on Sunday spotted two speedboats heading towards the mainland off the Westin Hotel, one of which escaped while the other ran aground. The occupants of the grounded boat fled, leaving the smuggled items behind.
International trade in elephant ivory was banned in 1989 under a trade convention to protect African and Indian elephants under threat of extinction.
Before the ban, Hong Kong was a major importer of ivory, and a trading and manufacturing centre for ivory carvings, crafts and products.