Hong Kong will destroy 28 tonnes of its stockpiled ivory, the Endangered Species Advisory Committee (ESAC) announced today. This decision comes after Guangzhou, China destroyed six tonnes of ivory earlier this year.
Paul Shin Kam-shing, Chairman of the ESAC told The Independent: “Elephants have a value and a function when they are alive. We should not be putting a value or function on their tusks and body parts after they have been killed in a cruel way.”
ESAC agreed unanimously to destroy 28 tonnes of Hong Kong’s stockpile by incineration after a four-hour meeting with government officials. The first raft of ivory tusks and trinkets will be destroyed within the next six months and the remaining stockpile will be burned over the next two years.
Kam-shing said that Hong Kong encourages “countries all over the world to make concerted efforts in combating illegal poaching.”
According to Kam-shing, Hong Kong would also destroy any future seizures of ivory and the government would actively promote conservation of endangered species in the country.
Hong Kong’s ivory stockpile is one of the largest in the world. The country sees major demand for ivory from tourists from mainland China who buy ivory trinkets, chopsticks and carvings to display as art.
The USA and Philippines destroyed their stockpiles of ivory in 2013, but Hong Kong’s decision is momentous because it represents a firm commitment from a nation where demand for ivory is at its highest.
The government will retain a few tonnes of ivory for use in scientific and educational projects. This is permitted by Cites, the international body to protect endangered wildlife.
Conservationists have applauded the decision as a major step in the battle against the ivory trade. Andrea Crosta, Executive Director of the Elephant Action League, commented: “I think it's a very important step, a much more meaningful gesture than the crush in mainland China [earlier this year].”
“It's too early to say if we have a new partner, ally, in Hong Kong, to curb the illegal ivory trade, but it's certainly a concrete action to get rid of most of their stock.”
Alex Hofford, programme director for Hong Kong for Elephants also commended the decision to destroy stockpiles: "We think it’s great, we are really happy with the government’s decision. America, China, and now Hong Kong are sending strong signals to ivory traders.
“[Buying ivory] is immoral: it’s wrong and it should stop. This message will get through to consumers and it will scare them. If demand stops, so will poaching."
However, Hofford argued that the using ivory in schools for educational purposes was akin to using bags of cocaine to educate children about the dangers of drug use.
He said: "We think that treating ivory as art sends the wrong message to children. We don’t think that dead body parts should be in classrooms. Ivory belongs on elephants and not in schools. Having ivory in glass boxes sends a wrong signal."
Shruti Suresh, wildlife campaigner with the Environmental Investigation Agency welcomed Hong Kong’s recognition of “the management burden and the security risk” posed by the stockpiling of ivory.
However, she said “we would urge the government to ensure that the stockpiles are destroyed in a transparent manner and after conducting an audit and taking DNA samples of the seized ivory for investigation and enforcement purposes.”
The Independent’s elephant appeal supports Space for Giants who work with international partners to stop the illegal trade of ivory. Follow our campaign page in the run-up to the London conference on 13 February, when heads of state from across the world will gather to find a global solution to wildlife crime.