Hong Kong answers the call to destroy ivory

Hong Kong customs officers carry a large confiscated ivory tusk as part of an illegal shipment of illegal ivory from Ivory Coast in Africa at the Hong Kong Customs & Excise Department Ports and Maritime Command Centre, Kwai Chung, Kowloon, Hong Kong, 03 October 2013. c. IFAWI have been waiting for the Endangered Species Advisory Committee’s decision today to destroy Hong Kong SAR of China’s confiscated ivory by incineration.

Earlier this month, after the Chinese government destroyed 6.1 tonnes of ivory in Dongguan city just across the border, I met with authorities from the Agriculture and Fisheries Conservation Department to discuss the options for Hong Kong’s huge stockpiles of confiscated ivory.

As a gateway to mainland China, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is a key transit route for illegal ivory to be smuggled into the mainland markets. In recent years, Hong Kong Customs seized an increasing number of large shipments of ivory and eventually amassed a 33-tonne stockpile.

Related: Crushing 6 tons of confiscated ivory, China answers a global call to protect elephants

The huge ivory stockpile—the world’s largest in a transit port—has become a hot potato for the Hong Kong authorities.

On the one hand, pressure is mounting from the conservation community to destroy the stockpile and for Hong Kong to join the growing group of countries around the world to take a stand against poaching of elephants for the ivory trade.

On the other hand, as recently as a year ago, the ESAC, a statutory advisory body made up of academic and business people, had turned down the proposal for ivory destruction and opted to keep the ivory for education use.

However, some Hong Kong schools rejected the ivory pieces, arguing that displaying confiscated ivory tusks and ornaments in schools sends the wrong message and does nothing to educate children about the plight of elephants.

The unanimous decision by the ESAC today not only answered in favor of the question, “destroy or not” but also choose the more definitive method of destruction by incineration.

Incineration of ivory relieves the burden for storage of crushed ivory remnants. The extreme high temperature in the industrial incinerator literally melts ivory into ash rendering it beyond use. Any small pieces left are so brittle that it disintegrates upon touch, according to Hong Kong authorities who made a test incineration of ivory. The high efficiency incinerator means low emission, alleviating any concerns of environmental pollutions.

In addition to the destruction of 33 tonnes ivory already in the stockpile, Hong Kong also pledged to destroy all ivory confiscated in future seizures, sending a strong message to poachers, traffickers and consumers alike that Hong Kong is not going to stand for the slaughter of elephants for the ivory trade. 

As Hong Kong joins Kenya, Gabon, the Philippines, US and most recently mainland China in the destruction of ivory stockpiles, last week both Belgium and France announced they would also be destroying their stockpiles.

If we are to save elephants we need to address every link in the ivory chain. That means stopping the killing, stopping the trafficking and stopping the demand.

The destruction of confiscated ivory by countries in the elephants’ range, along ivory smuggling routes and in ivory consumption countries shows growing momentum across the world in saying ivory trade and consumption is immoral and wrong.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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