There's a strong case for destroying Hong Kong's ivory stockpile

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 3:43am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 8:43am

Hong Kong maintains one of the world's largest stockpiles of ivory confiscated from smugglers rather than destroying it. This may have some research potential, or happen to reflect sensibilities on the mainland and elsewhere in Asia, where ivory is prized as a source of wisdom, a sign of nobility and symbol of wealth. But now that Guangdong officials have crushed more than six tonnes of ivory in a ceremonial and widely publicised demonstration of China's commitment to wildlife protection, there is no longer any excuse for Hong Kong officials to continue to ignore calls from conservationists to destroy our 33-tonne stockpile.

An audience of foreign diplomats and conservationists watched as two giant grinders reduced raw elephant tusks and ivory ornaments to rubble in Dongguan , in a signal from the world's largest ivory market that it is serious about international pledges to safeguard threatened species, in some cases from Chinese tastes and eating habits.

Local activists say that if Hong Kong follows suit this will send a strong message to elephant poachers and ivory smugglers that the city is no longer a viable trade route.

Recent seizures of smuggled ivory in Hong Kong, including one of the world's biggest - a 3.8-tonne haul in two containers from Africa intercepted more than a year ago at the Kwai Chung container port - are a reminder that the city's location as a transport and financial hub makes it attractive for smuggling and money laundering.

It is good therefore that the Endangered Species Advisory Committee, consisting of businesspeople and researchers, will discuss a revised proposal for destroying Hong Kong's confiscated ivory later this month. Lack of consensus has led to rejection of the idea in the past. To be sure, secure storage is an alternative. But because it is secretive by nature it does not send the same strong message to would-be smugglers, and requires diligent custody to ensure that the ivory does not find its way back into illegal markets in pursuit of big profits.