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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs