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An adviser for a Hong Kong government panel on endangered species has resigned after being fined HK$8,000 by a local court on Tuesday for illegal ivory possession.
William Lau Sai-yuan said he decided to step down from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department’s 13-member Endangered Species Advisory Committee.
“As a trader, I never intend to do anything illegal but we trust the government’s analysis,” Lau told the Post. “To avoid affecting the [department] and committee’s operations, I have decided to give up my membership.”
Lau, who described his motivation for joining the committee in September 2016 as to “help society and serve the public”, said his resignation had been accepted.
On Tuesday, Lau pleaded guilty at Eastern Court and was fined HK$8,000 for selling a pair of chopsticks made from elephant ivory obtained after a 1990 international trade ban. Another trader Huen Kwok-leung, pleaded not guilty and will face another trial in April.
During an operation last June, AFCD officers bought two pairs of ivory chopsticks from two shops in Central, one of which was owned by Lau. Radiocarbon dating analysis revealed that four samples cut from each pair were made from ivory obtained after 1990.
Ivory that is imported legally into Hong Kong before 1990 can still be traded but is regulated by a licensing system.
Lau, a member of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and an executive director of the Hong Kong Art Craft Merchants Association, declined to elaborate on the incident. But he described it as “unfortunate” and “unlucky”, stating he had already been shifting his business to selling legal mammoth ivory and other crafts.
The committee advises the AFCD director on questions relating to the administration of the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, Cap 586, covering the wildlife trade.
Committee chairman Professor Shaw Pang-chui said he had only learned on Wednesday about Lau’s involvement in the case and would discuss with the department secretariat and others what the next course of action would be.
The AFCD confirmed it had received Lau’s resignation. A spokesman said the committee needed to be represented by different sectors including those in the trade, academia and NGOs.
Harsher penalties that truly befit the crime are desperately needed in Hong Kong.
Alex Hofford, WildAid
Alex Hofford, wildlife campaigner for WildAid, called the HK$8,000 penalty imposed on Lau “pathetically light” and unlikely to deter others.
“Harsher penalties that truly befit the crime are desperately needed in Hong Kong, he said.
Hofford also expressed disappointment in learning of Lau’s involvement and found it “incredible” he could have a seat on the advisory committee.
“The members are charged with providing the Hong Kong government with good advice on the protection of endangered species such as the endangered African elephant, not trading those exact same endangered species into extinction.”
Beijing last month imposed a total ban on all ivory sales across mainland China. Hong Kong authorities plan to follow suit, but a local ban will not come into effect until 2021.