Split over fate of 33-tonne ivory pile as some say 'don't destroy it, use it'

Government advisers divided over whether to destroy stockpile to send a 'message', or put it to use so 11,000 elephant deaths are not in vain

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 3:23am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 12:35pm

Government advisers are split over whether Hong Kong should destroy its 33-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory.

Some members of the Endangered Species Advisory Committee say the ivory should be kept and a use found for it, while others say Hong Kong should follow the example set by the Guangdong city of Dongguan and destroy the seized tusks.

Divisions are expected to surface at a meeting of the committee this afternoon when conservation officials will resubmit proposals on how to handle the ivory. The department has confirmed that about 33 tonnes of ivory - taken from an estimated 11,000 elephants - has been seized. But it has refused to disclose how or where the stockpile is being kept, except to say it is in safe storage.

The committee last year decided against destroying the ivory. Instead, it favoured using it for conservation education.

Committee member Professor Chu Lee-man who had reservations about the destruction proposal last year, said he felt more open to this option after Dongguan crushed its seized ivory.

But Chu, from the Chinese University's School of Life Sciences, said he still wanted the committee to debate whether the ivory could be kept.

"Is there urgency [to make a decision]?" he asked. "Are we running out of space to store it? Is maintaining the security measures too expensive for us?"

If the ivory was not put to a good use it would mean the elephants had died for nothing, Chu said.

Another member, Chan Wing-suen, who represents the Chinese medicine trade, said he would not attend the meeting but also had reservations about destroying the stockpile.

"It might be a pity to destroy the ivory - we should look for alternatives," he said.

Fellow committee member Professor Kenneth Leung Mei-yee, of the University of Hong Kong's biological sciences department, said he supported proposals to destroy the stockpile of ivory.

"It's like police destroying the contraband of drug traffickers, it sends a good public message," said the professor.

But Leung said another option was to set aside a small portion of the ivory for educational purposes, so it could be used to prompt debate and heighten awareness of the problem.

Another committee member, Tsang Kwok-keung, also supported destroying the ivory but said that he would not be attending the meeting.

Committee chairman Dr Paul Shin Kam-shing said he hoped those at the meeting could reach a consensus, without putting the issue to a vote. "If we are really split on it, we might need further consideration," he added.