Hong Kong could be about to take the lead in the fight against elephant poachers and the criminal networks behind the illicit ivory trade by destroying its huge stockpile of the contraband, said the regional head of an influential wildlife conservation group.
The mainland's decision last week to crush six tonnes of seized ivory may give Hong Kong the momentum it needs to follow through on its own proposal from two years ago to incinerate its 33-tonne stockpile, said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
"Hong Kong has a very, very big role to play because if they destroy all 33 tonnes of ivory in its stockpile, it will be unprecedented, as that amount has never been destroyed," Gabriel said.
Demand for ivory has soared in recent years, driven mainly by buyers in Asia, and mainland China in particular. It has led to a devastation of elephant populations not seen since the 1990s, when the problem prompted international action.
Images of ivory being destroyed in Dongguan last Monday sent ripples through the offices of the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in Hong Kong.
The department's endangered species advisory committee is responsible for deciding what to do with the stockpile, said Gabriel, who on Friday discussed the issue with two officials.
"They want to destroy the stockpile but the final decision has to come from the committee," she said. "They have to wait for them to meet, but we have collectively felt this momentum which was not there a year ago, so there is optimism."
In 2012, the committee rejected a proposal from the department to destroy the city's stockpile of seized ivory, arguing that it would be wasteful and the ivory should instead be kept for educational purposes.
The department accepted the committee's recommendation last February, but committee chairman Paul Shin Kam-shing has previously said that he would be happy to return to the issue.
Gabriel said that time had come. "The momentum generated around the world is good and it sends a message to people everywhere that if they had any misgivings that destroying ivory is a waste, now they understand. Ivory is not art, it's a life; that message is strong."
She added: "It also takes the burden from having all this contraband which needs to be secured, stored and guarded because of its potential high value."
The IFAW was part of an alliance of non-governmental organisations that oversaw the Dongguan action and is also working with the French government to destroy stockpiles.
An AFCD spokeswoman said it exchanged views on various conservation issues with NGOs from time to time. It was currently "reviewing the effectiveness of existing disposal measures", which include donations to schools and universities.