Skip to main content

Will Hong Kong destroy huge ivory stockpile following China's lead?

By Tim Hume, CNN
January 10, 2014 -- Updated 2150 GMT (0550 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Conservationists hope Hong Kong will destroy its huge horde of confiscated ivory
  • They want it incinerated to wipe out demand and prevent it returning to market
  • As gateway to China, world's biggest ivory consumer, Hong Kong has enormous stockpile
  • China's move to crush tons of ivory this week may inspire Hong Kong to follow suit

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Conservationists are optimistic Hong Kong will move to destroy its huge stockpile of confiscated ivory -- believed to be one of the world's biggest -- following China's landmark destruction of six tons of tusks and ivory sculptures this week.

Hong Kong, one of the principal gateways to mainland China, has previously opted not to destroy its stockpile of the illegal "white gold" -- most of which is seized en route to the mainland -- opting instead to hold it in secret warehouses, sending small amounts to schools for educational purposes. China is the world's largest ivory market, accounting for an estimated 70% of global consumption, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

But a spokeswoman for Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said a committee would consider alternate means of dealing with the stockpile of "about 30 tons" of contraband ivory held by the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR), a hub of the global ivory trade, at a meeting later this month.

The department had been trialing means of destroying ivory, including incineration, she said.

Activists are hopeful Hong Kong will be encouraged to emulate the recent example of China, which took the symbolic gesture of crushing of tons of ivory in the southern Guangdong province Monday.

The public demolition, which took place before diplomats, conservationists and media, came a month after China pledged at an African Elephant Summit in Botswana to take action to combat ivory trading.

China destroys 6 tons of illegal ivory

The quantity destroyed by China -- the first occasion the superpower has destroyed any of its stockpile -- amounted to about one-sixth of the illegal ivory confiscated worldwide in 2012, according to IFAW estimates.

"The government of China took a stand finally on the issue and made a symbolic gesture to say to the world they want to join the global fight against the illegal wildlife trade," said activist Alex Hofford of lobby group Hong Kong for Elephants.

Given Hong Kong's close relationship with China and with key trading partner the United States, which similarly destroyed its entire 6-ton stockpile of ivory in November, "I don't very well see how (Hong Kong) cannot" follow suit, he said.

The destruction of seized ivory hordes has also taken place in the Philippines, Gabon, and Kenya in recent years. "There's a bit of a pattern emerging, a global trend now to get rid of the ivory stockpiles," said Hofford, adding that Hong Kong's trove would be by far the largest to be destroyed.

READ MORE: Chinese construction camps eyed as ivory conduits in Republic of Congo

Conservation groups have been calling on governments to destroy their stockpiles, which often require substantial resources to keep secure, in order to help wipe out the demand for ivory and prevent the product returning to market. According to the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species, a large amount of confiscated African ivory goes missing every year.

More crucially, said Hofford, public destruction also sends a powerful message to potential buyers.

"It sends a really strong signal to consumers in China that it's morally reprehensible -- it's the wrong thing to do, and by buying illegal wildlife products, they're directly contributing to the poaching crisis in Africa," he said.

A survey of 900 middle and upper middle class Chinese, commissioned by National Geographic last year, found nearly 60% of respondents believed that strong government directives not to purchase ivory would be the most effective way to counter the trade. The survey also found that Chinese consumers associated ivory products with luxury and prestige.

According to Jeff He, special assistant to the Asia Regional Director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a rise in demand from Asia, and especially China, in recent years has fueled the black market and put increasing pressure on African elephants in the wild.

The elephant population in Africa has now shrunk to around half a million, from 1.2 million in 1980. Nearly one hundred African elephants are killed for their tusks every day, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Hofford said that incinerating, not merely crushing, the ivory was a key consideration, as the crushing process would chunks of ivory large enough that they could still be worked into trinkets and returned to the ivory market.

READ MORE: Hong Kong's seized ivory stockpile an elephant-sized headache

CNN's Sophie Brown and journalist Peter Shadbolt contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Sky gazers caught a glimpse of the "blood moon" crossing the Earth's shadow Tuesday in all its splendor.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1624 GMT (0024 HKT)
Oscar Pistorius didn't consciously pull the trigger the night he shot and killed his girlfriend, the sprinter testified at his murder trial.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 2116 GMT (0516 HKT)
Officials are launching their next option: an underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1254 GMT (2054 HKT)
A mysterious new artwork has appeared in Cheltenham, where Britain's version of the NSA is located.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Like many parents across Liverpool, the McManamans waited. 25 years ago, it was all they could do.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
The Maltese Falcon makes a swift turn while at sea.
How do you design a superyacht fit for the billionaire who has everything money can buy?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Pop art condoms in Kenya
Packaging can change how people see things. And when it comes to sex, it could maybe help save lives too.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1542 GMT (2342 HKT)
mediterranean monk seal
Africa is home to much unique wildlife, but many of its iconic species are threatened.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
A staff stands next to the propellers of Sun-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 HB-SIB seen in silhouette during its first exit for test on April 14, 2014 in Payerne, a year ahead of their planned round-the-world flight. Solar Impulse 2 is the successor of the original plane of the same name, which last year completed a trip across the United States without using a drop of fuel. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
This solar-powered aircraft will attempt to circle the globe next year.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1714 GMT (0114 HKT)
... not in Italy. In fact, it's thousands of miles away.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 0043 GMT (0843 HKT)
Ebola victims usually come from remote areas -- but now the lethal virus is in a city of two million.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT