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Hong Kong to burn stockpile of contraband ivory

Tusks seized by Hong Kong customs earlier this month. They were shipped from Burundi before being discovered during transit.

Story highlights

  • Hong Kong said it will destroy most of its stockpile of seized ivory
  • The ivory had become a "management burden" and "security risk"
  • Decision follows similar moves by China and the United States
  • Conservationists say move would send strong message to ivory consumers

Hong Kong says it will destroy most of its huge stockpile of contraband ivory in a move hailed by conservationists as a significant step in combating the illegal trade in elephant tusks.

Some 28 tons of ivory will be incinerated in the next one to two years, with the first batch slated to be disposed of by the end of June, the city's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said on Thursday.

The department said the huge stockpile, held in undisclosed locations around the city, had become a "management burden" and a "security risk."

The city had previously opted not to destroy the stash -- most of which is seized en route to mainland China -- but had come under pressure following similar moves by its neighbor and the United States.

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Earlier this month, six tons of ivory were crushed in the southern city of Guangzhou, the first time China -- which accounts for 70% of global demand for ivory -- had destroyed any of its confiscated ivory.

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In November, the U.S. destroyed its entire six-ton pile of ivory "to send a clear message that the United States will not tolerate ivory trafficking and the toll it is taking on elephant populations, particularly in Africa."

China is the world's largest ivory market accounting for an estimated 70% of global consumption, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Alex Hofford, program director at the campaign group Hong Kong for Elephants and a consultant for WildAid, said the move would send a strong message that would deter would-be buyers of what is sometimes called "white gold."

He said that Hong Kong had previously been unwilling to destroy the seized tusks because of concerns it would create air pollution and fears that such a move would be wasteful.

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

A Hong Kong department spokesman said the ivory would be burned in three ton batches and any ivory seized in the future would be disposed of in the same way.

One ton of confiscated ivory would be retained for education purposes.

In 2008, a one-time sale of ivory seized in Africa to China was permitted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) but the decision was subsequently criticized by wildlife protection advocates, who say the deal jump-started the ivory trade in China.

READ: Will Hong Kong follow China's lead?