Hong Kong's ivory stockpile will not be destroyed but used for education

US believe destruction sends strong message, but city backs its use for education purposes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 3:53am

US wildlife officials say destroying stockpiles of illicit ivory is an effective way to curb a trade that threatens to wipe out elephant populations - but Hong Kong conservation chiefs remain unmoved by their stance.

Next month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will use an industrial-scale rock crusher to destroy six tonnes of African and Asian elephant ivory - 95 per cent of its stockpile. It includes whole and carved tusks, and hundreds of smaller carvings that have been seized over the past 25 years.

It is the first time the US has destroyed ivory on such a large scale and the move is aimed at sending a clear message to poachers and criminals engaged in ivory trafficking.

"Only ivory needed for law-enforcement purposes or conservation education will be withheld from the crush," a US Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said.

In Hong Kong, an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) spokeswoman said that donating ivory to schools was the main way the department reduced its stockpile.

This year, customs has made four large seizures of ivory and it is estimated that the government has at least 16 tonnes of ivory in its stockpile. Just 3 per cent has been donated for educational purposes.

Citing "security reasons", the AFCD will not say how much ivory it has in its stockpile, nor whether a detailed inventory is kept to ensure that items do not go missing.

Last year, the department took the advice of its endangered species advisory committee, which rejected a plan to burn the ivory.

This decision contradicted the department's own report, which found that incineration was an efficient way to destroy it.

"We are aware of the actions of other countries regarding the disposal of ivory and we do not rule out any feasible way to dispose of the confiscated ivory in accordance with the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] guidelines," the AFCD spokeswoman said.

Last year, about 25,000 African elephants were illegally slaughtered for their tusks, according to Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants, a body set up as part of an international treaty regulating the legal sale of ivory from approved countries.

In June, the Philippines destroyed five tonnes of smuggled elephant tusks. Gabon destroyed large amounts of ivory last year, as did Kenya, which burned its stocks in 1989 and again in 2011.