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ILLEGAL TRADE

Hong Kong to consider destroying 33-tonne ivory stockpile after Beijing crushes illegal tusks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 9:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 7:32am
 

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Pressure is building on Hong Kong to destroy its 33-tonne ivory stockpile after confiscated ivory was crushed on the mainland for the first time on Monday.

Hong Kong has previously rejected destruction as an option.

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it was "aware of steps in other places to destroy forfeited ivory" and was "reviewing the effectiveness of existing disposal measures".

She said a revised proposal to destroy Hong Kong's confiscated ivory would be discussed by the Endangered Species Advisory Committee (ESAC) on January 23.

In Dongguan , Guangdong, diplomats, media and international guests watched as two giant grinders destroyed 6.1 tonnes of ivory sculptures and raw tusks.

The move signalled the willingness of the mainland - the world's largest ivory market - to play a greater role in wildlife protection. It followed a global conservation conference in March at which China and the United States co-sponsored measures to increase protection for more than 40 species, most of which are threatened by Chinese consumers' tastes and eating habits.

Local activists welcomed Beijing's actions and called on Hong Kong to follow suit.

"The time has come to destroy Hong Kong's stockpile. This will send a strong message to poachers and smugglers that Hong Kong is not a viable trade route, and is a city keen to demonstrate leadership on conservation," said Gavin Edwards, director of conservation at WWF-Hong Kong.

Hong Kong plays a role in the ivory trade both as a transit point for the mainland and as a consumer in its own right. Last month 14 people were arrested at Chek Lap Kok airport after customs officers seized 160kg of raw tusks and ivory products in their checked baggage.

As pressure builds on Hong Kong, conservationists worry that ESAC - a statutory advisory body made up of university researchers and businesspeople - will reject the proposal.

"The committee has discussed this issue already, but members of the committee have objected in the past," said Alex Hofford, a campaigner for Hong Kong for Elephants. "However, I think there is still a good chance that the government will follow China on this as Hong Kong tends to follow China's lead on policy matters."

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department had conducted a trial in Tsing Yi in 2012 to destroy seized ivory and found incineration - rather than crushing the ivory - to be an effective method of disposal. It later dropped the idea because most of its advisers opposed it.

In June, the Philippines destroyed its five-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory; and since 1992, three elephant range states in Africa - Zambia, Kenya and Gabon - have incinerated their own stockpiles.

James Compton, senior director at the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, said that while destroying stockpiles sent a strong message, governments could choose to hold seized ivory in secure storage.

He said governments choosing to do so should be careful to keep inventories to "provide assurances that ivory does not find its way back into illegal markets, further feeding illegal trade".

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