Hong Kong has boosted the fight against the illegal ivory trade by deciding to follow international examples and destroy most of its stockpile of confiscated tusks.
The move represents a U-turn from last year, when the city's advisers on endangered species refused to support a proposal to destroy the ivory by incineration.
At least 28 tonnes of ivory now held by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department will be incinerated at a chemical waste facility in Tsing Yi.
Another 1.6 tonnes would be kept for education, scientific or other purposes allowed by an international treaty, said the Endangered Species Advisory Committee, which approved the destruction yesterday. Chairman Paul Shin Kam-shing said the decision was unanimous and hoped it would set an example.
He said: "The committee calls upon countries all over the world to make concerted efforts in combating the illegal poaching of elephants and to undertake rigorous measures to protect elephants."
Alex Hofford, programme director of Hong Kong for Elephants, said: "It's great to finally see the government joining others around the world in taking the lead on this."
But he opposed the use of ivory in schools. "We don't think there is any place for ivory in the classroom ... It's like handing out bags of drugs to students to educate them about the drug trade."
Conservation officials expect the first batch to be destroyed by July and the rest within two years.
The department says the stockpile - which activists say amounts to the death of more than 10,000 elephants - has become both a security risk and a management burden. The city has also been under local and overseas pressure to join other jurisdictions - including the United States and Guangdong - and destroy the ivory.
"While it's still unclear what impact [the destruction] will have on the dynamics of ivory trafficking, there's little doubt Hong Kong's decision will send a strong message to consumers in the region that illegally sourced ivory will not be tolerated," said Tom Miliken, an expert on the ivory trade with the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.
Miliken says any ivory destruction event should be preceded by an independent auditing process so it is clear what ivory has been destroyed and where it originated.
"Furthermore, forensic examination of the ivory should be routine because of the valuable insights into the mode of operation of the criminals orchestrating shipments, so that ultimately they can be brought to book,” he said.
The news delighted children who had been campaigning for the ivory to be destroyed. "It is so exciting and exactly what we wanted and what we worked for," said Nellie Shute, 11.
Lucy Skrine, also 11, said: "Thanks to the committee for taking our side. It's very important that elephants can survive."
Illegal ivory sales are said to be still rampant on the mainland and Thailand, fuelling the poaching of tens of thousands of elephants a year. The value of 1kg of ivory ranges from HK$8,000 to HK$15,000.