Voice of America (Washington, DC)

24 January 2014

Africa: Hong Kong to Destroy 30 Tons of Ivory

More than 30 metric tons of ivory stocks are scheduled to be destroyed in Hong Kong. The African Wildlife Foundation says it welcomes the move in a region where a culture of ivory is deep seated.

The decision to destroy the ivory stocks was made by the Endangered Species Advisory Committee of Hong Kong's Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

Because of the huge amount of ivory it will be destroyed in stages. And it won't be crushed as in recent events in the U.S. and China where much smaller amounts were destroyed. Instead, it will be incinerated and turned to ash to ensure no small pieces remain that could be sold.

Speaking from Nairobi, African Wildlife Foundation CEO - Dr. Patrick Bergin - said he is thrilled by Hong Kong's decision for several reasons.

"One, I think it shows growing global consensus, and two, I think it shows that this is an issue that the East and the West and Africa can work together on."

Besides the amount of ivory being destroyed, Bergin said where it's being done is also significant.

"It's believed that Hong Kong is probably the single, largest transit point for ivory. So if you think about the fact that the United States destroyed about six tons and Hong Kong is holding 33-plus tons, it goes to show you what a large stockpile they have comparatively -- and that it's built up over a long period of time," he said.

There was another poaching crisis back in the 1970s and 80s. Many people in the United States and other developed countries were buying Ivory jewelry. Bergin said a campaign began to raise awareness that thousands of animals had to die for that jewelry to be made. The campaign was called Only Elephants Should Wear Ivory.

"I remember a big ad we had in the New York Times. It said: Today in America someone will kill an elephant for a bracelet. And as a result of public education we reached a tipping point and it's now just very uncool and politically incorrect to use ivory in that way," he said.

The head of the African Wildlife Foundation said that those campaigns did not happen in Asia.

"Most of humanity lives in Asia and we believe most of the market for ivory is now in Asia. The same movement has to occur. We need to reach out to the public in China, Vietnam and Hong Kong and Thailand - and particularly the younger generations. And help them understand the terrible destruction that this habit is causing," he said.

The U.S., the U.N., the Clinton Foundation and others have launched new campaigns to crackdown on poachers. Many park rangers are ill trained and ill equipped to them. They are often well armed and backed by organized crime. There's also concern that money from illegal poaching may be going to terrorist groups.

Bergin said the use of social media can help spread the word quickly and globally about illegal poaching and its consequences. Media that were not available during the campaigns of the 70s and 80s.

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