Destruction of illegal ivory the right policy for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 5:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 5:00am

Making U-turns is not necessarily bad for policy- and decision-makers. There is no reason to feel ashamed when a rethink is called for and justified. In a welcome change of heart, a top government advisory body has finally agreed to follow international practice and destroy most of Hong Kong's stockpile of confiscated ivory tusks. Belated as it is, the decision is to be applauded. Not only does it boost the efforts to combat the illegal ivory trade, it also sends the right message to the world that Hong Kong is an ally rather than an accomplice of trafficking.

Despite denials by government officials, there is little doubt the city has been seen by smugglers as a viable trade route. Over the years, the repeated seizures of ivory tusks in containers passing through our port proved the city's importance to the illegal but lucrative business. As the number of interceptions rises, so does the pressure for proper disposal.

There may be some merit in the suggestion that the ivory tusks can be preserved and used as a means to raise public awareness. But it makes no sense to hold on to our stockpile indefinitely in the name of research and education, while the tonnes of ivory from an estimated 10,000 elephants gather dust in an undisclosed location and become a management and security issue. The pressure for a U-turn became all the greater after our neighbouring province, Guangdong, crushed more than six tonnes of confiscated ivory in a high-profile show of China's commitment to wildlife protection. There was no alternative for Hong Kong but to heed calls from conservationists to do the same.

Nothing can be done to bring the slaughtered mammals to life. Until greed-driven human predators stop killing for profits and would-be smugglers give up the lucrative trade, the endangered species will need our protection. But the decision to begin incinerating the majority of our seized tusks this year will at least send a strong message to hunters and smugglers that this city takes its international obligation seriously.