News / Asia

Hong Kong Begins to Destroy Ivory Stockpile

Officials and guests including Hong Kong Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing, second right, are shown seized ivory, May 15, 2014.
Officials and guests including Hong Kong Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing, second right, are shown seized ivory, May 15, 2014.
Ivan Broadhead
Authorities in Hong Kong Thursday began the process of destroying nearly 30 tons of ivory, arguing that it was too expensive to safeguard one of the world’s largest caches of elephant tusk.  While conservationists praise the gesture, saying it shows the government's commitment to fighting wildlife crime, many insist more needs to be done in Asia to help tackle the poaching of critically endangered elephant and rhino species.  

After years of indecision, the Hong Kong government has incinerated the first ton of ivory from its vast stockpile of elephant tusk, confiscated from wildlife crime syndicates since 2004.  

Speaking at the facility where the 35 barrels of chopped ivory were destroyed, the head of the Endangered Species Advisory Committee, Paul Shin, told reporters that Hong Kong was intent on helping end elephant poaching.

“Today is not a celebration, but a solemn reminder of the tragedy that so many elephants have been illegally killed solely for the market value of their tusk," said Shin.

The semi-autonomous Chinese city is a major transshipment hub for the illegal trade in elephant tusk and rhino horn.  Last year, local officials seized eight tons of ivory, from countries as far away as Nigeria and South Africa, that were en route to increasingly affluent consumers across Asia.

Members of the government advisory committee had faced criticism for their previous reluctance to destroy the stockpile.  They cited its potential resale value on the legal market as prices soared.

With China and the United States beginning to incinerate their own stockpiles earlier this year, officials announced in January that Hong Kong would incinerate 28 tons of tusk by mid-2015.

That process could help educate Asian consumers, not just about animal conservation but about wider issues linked to elephant and rhino poaching including armed conflict, says Julie Ayling of the Transnational Environmental Crime project at Australian National University.   

“For example, the evidence indicates that some militias, insurgent groups in Africa, have become involved in the illegal wildlife trade.  There is a suggestion that the Janjaweed from Sudan have been involved in ivory smuggling to make money [for their cause]," said Ayling.

While incineration removes any chance of poached ivory being laundered back into the market, there need to be more studies on the effects of destroying supplies, suggests Tom Milliken, head of elephant and rhino programs at the wildlife trade monitoring network, Traffic.

“Conventionally, if you have a commodity in high demand and you reduce supply, you get an increase in price.  We need to be evidence led.  We cannot just embrace the notion that [burning] is a solution without being able to root that conviction in the reality of what is happening on the black market," said Milliken.

Efforts to eradicate the black market must also be maintained across Asia, adds Milliken.  In particular, focus needs to return to widely ignored countries like Thailand, where, he says, the tourist trade in ivory trinkets needs to be shut down completely.

“The Thai government has tacitly committed to this, but the political turmoil there is completely retarding any meaningful progress," he said. "If we’re not going to see results in the short term, then maybe we need to be pushing for things like sanctions to get better compliance?”

Amid the gloom of ever-dwindling elephant populations, Milliken and other conservationists take solace from Japan.  A decade ago, Japan was a major ivory consumer. Today, that market has diminished considerably as younger generations turn their back on the commodity.  

With several Hong Kong retailers this week announcing they will no longer sell ivory products, the hope is that the incineration of the Hong Kong stockpile might spark a similar success.

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs