Destroy the ivory or keep it? A 30-ton dilemma
for Hong Kong

Customs officials are becoming more adept at confiscating ivory at the point of entry, but that’s just the beginning

Share
Related Topics

Early last year, customs officers at the Port of Hong Kong pried open a shipping container marked “architectural stones” arriving from Kenya. Inside the container, wrapped in sacks and hidden underneath stone plates, were 779 elephant tusks. Just weeks before, these tusks were parts of living elephants roaming the African savannah. Now, they were headed for the illegal carving workshops of mainland China. If they hadn’t been intercepted, they’d likely have become ornaments gracing coffee tables of China’s nouveau riche.

The bust was just another day at the office for Hong Kong customs officers, who have been working overtime in recent years to curtail the trafficking of contraband ivory. As the Chinese consumer class has grown, so too has the demand for ivory. Hong Kong, with its busy seaport and location on the doorstep of mainland China, has become the preferred port of entry for smugglers. Between January and October of last year, Hong Kong Customs seized 7,230 kg of ivory, up from 5,596 kg in 2012.

Most of the ivory arrives by sea. The Port of Hong Kong is the world’s third busiest container port, with some 380,000 vessels arriving and departing yearly.

In August, customs officers seized 1,120 ivory tusks, 13 rhino horns and five pieces of leopard skin inside a container shipped from Nigeria. The contraband, hidden in a container supposedly containing wood, was worth about HK$41m (about £3.2m).

Under Hong Kong law, anyone importing or exporting undeclared items can face up to seven years in prison, while trading in endangered species carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. But the price of ivory on the black market – £1,350 per kg on the streets of Beijing – makes smuggling irresistible to some.

Now, thanks to its success at locating the contraband, Hong Kong has another problem to deal with: what to do with the 30-plus tons of ivory seized in recent years?

Keeping the ivory safe is both expensive and risky. After all, 30 tons of ivory at £1,350 a kilo is worth nearly £37m, a lavish payday for an intrepid thief. Seized ivory has gone missing from several African stockpiles in recent years.

Many environmentalists argue the ivory should simply be destroyed. This would make a bold anti-poaching statement, and would ensure that the ivory could never re-enter the market. In June, the Philippines smashed its five-ton ivory stockpile using construction equipment. In November, the United States crushed six tons in a publicised ceremony.

“If Hong Kong destroys its ivory it sends a particularly strong message,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, the Asia Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “It highlights the plight of elephants and shows that Hong Kong’s government is just not going to tolerate it.”

But the Hong Kong Endangered Species Advisory Committee, made up of scientists and other experts, decided not to pursue destruction earlier this year.

“Many members viewed that [the tusks] are still a valuable natural product, and if we destroy them it would be quite wasteful,” says Kenneth Leung, a professor at Hong Kong University’s School of Biological Sciences and a member of the committee.

Space for Giants, the beneficiary of The Independent’s Christmas Campaign, provides training to law enforcement personnel to secure convictions against those involved in the illegal ivory trade. Currently, while the arrest rate is high, convictions are woefully rare.

At the moment, the government lends out ivory for use in anti-poaching displays. But one student, 11-year-old Nellie Shute, has made it her goal to push Hong Kong into destroying the ivory stockpile.

Educational ivory displays only “reinforce the idea that ivory can be used as art,” Shute said, picking up a tusk elaborately carved to resemble a dancing woman and placing it in a cardboard box. “These belong to an elephant.”

To read more about our elephant appeal, click here

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible