Hong Kong (dpa) – In a bid to curb the illegal poaching of elephants, Hong Kong on Thursday began incinerating 28 tonnes of confiscated ivory, the largest amount destroyed anywhere in the world.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said before the event that the destruction “conveys a clear message at both local and international levels, that the Hong Kong government is determined to curb illegal hunting of elephants, and put an end to the illegal ivory trade.”
The ivory was broken into pieces before being fed into an incinerator at a chemical waste facility on the city’s Tsing Yi island.
The total amount that will be destroyed dwarfs other government stockpiles that have been destroyed elsewhere, including the US and mainland China.
The Hong Kong government’s decision to destroy its confiscated ivory followed Chinese authorities’ high-profile burning of 6 tonnes of ivory in January in Dongguan, Guangdong Province.
Hong Kong is a major transit hub for the trafficking of ivory, with most of the contraband bound for mainland China. China has the biggest market for ivory in the world, according to conservation groups.
The city’s conservation department said no more than three tonnes can be burned in one batch and it would take two years to complete the incineration. Another 1.6 tonnes of ivory would be kept for education, scientific or other purposes allowed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Many conservation groups welcomed the large-scale incineration as a strong statement against trafficking, although experts say that burning has yet to show a proven impact on lowering the supply and demand for illegal ivory.
“There is no evidence so far that incineration has reduced demand or supply and it is too early to say whether it could also increase the [black market] prices of ivory,” Dr Yannick Kuehl, regional director of East & South Asia for wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic told dpa.
“This remarkable ivory destruction event should then be followed by actions to reduce demand for ivory products, work with source countries where elephants are poached to reduce supply, and improve law enforcement to better detect ivory smuggling,” Kuehl said.
A coalition of animal welfare and conservation groups, led by local group Hong Kong for Elephants, wrote an open letter to the chief executive of Hong Kong this week to call for a complete ban on the sale of ivory.
Since a worldwide ban on trade in ivory in 1989, licensed Hong Kong shops have been able to sell some types of ivory including ivory from extinct mammoths, products carved before 1989 and ivory bought from government sales in southern Africa.
Since 2000, Hong Kong customs have seized approximately 33 tonnes of ivory with an additional six tonnes seized in other countries en route to Hong Kong and nearly 3 tonnes of ivory seized overseas after leaving Hong Kong, according to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database.
The population of African elephants dropped from three to five million in the early 1900s to around 500,000 today. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 22,000 elephants are being killed each year.