Record illegal ivory destruction planned by Hong Kong

The Hong Kong government plans to burn 28 tonnes of confiscated ivory beginning on Thursday – welcomed by WWF and TRAFFIC. The upcoming burn of illegal ivory is the largest destruction of seized ivory on record.

Hong Kong is a major transit hub and end-use market for illegal ivory and is ranked fifth in the world in ivory seizures. Enforcement efforts to intercept illegal ivory sends the strong message that Hong Kong will not tolerate ivory trafficking and that the rest of the world should not either.

“ W e appreciate the government’s strong statement, and we also recognize that destroying ivory is only one of a suite of enforcement actions that need to be taken by any country involved in ivory seizures,” said Cheryl Lo, conservation specialist at WWF-Hong Kong.

Since 2000, Hong Kong has seized approximately 30 tonnes of illegal ivory. According to the Elephant Trade Information System, nearly six additional tonnes of ivory were seized in countries en route to Hong Kong and almost two and a half tonnes of ivory were seized in countries after leaving Hong Kong.

The incineration of 28 tonnes of ivory will take at least one year to complete. When concluded, the Hong Kong burn will be the largest amount ever destroyed. Recent ivory destructions have also taken place in the United States, Chad, and China.

WWF and TRAFFIC call on Hong Kong to conduct independent audits of all ivory stocks slated for destruction. Independent audits are essential to ensure that the amount of ivory destroyed matches the amount publicly stated and ensures that governments participating in ivory destruction events do so with accountability and transparency.

The government should also ensure tighter monitoring and control over ivory sold in the market, including mandating the public display of commercial licenses in all retail shops that legally sell ivory products. WWF and TRAFFIC urge consumers to stop purchasing ivory products as a way of aiding elephant conservation efforts.

“This remarkable ivory destruction should be followed up by actions which ensure that Hong Kong complies with international commitments, such as CITES. This relates to regulating the domestic market, but also to expanding the suite of law enforcement technologies and techniques used for profiling and targeting cargo from high-risk countries or increased use of forensic examination of seized products,” said Dr. Yannick Kuehl, TRAFFIC’s regional director, South & East Asia.

Recent figures show that the population of African elephants dropped from between three to five million in the early 1900s to around 500,000 today. Approximately 22,000 African elephants are killed each year. The Asian elephant is classified as endangered due to the extreme impacts of elephant poaching and habitat loss.

The effective protection of the world’s elephants requires measures to be taken by consumers, law enforcement officials, and authorities in transit and range states. Such measures include the strengthening of anti-poaching initiatives by training anti-poaching rangers and providing better equipment. Authorities should also monitor illegal trade and identify trade routes. The reduction of consumer demand for ivory products, protecting elephant habitats and mitigating human-elephant conflicts are also essential to protecting the world’s elephants.