Elephant in South Africa.
Hong Kong has begun destroying its 29.6-metric-ton stockpile of confiscated ivory.
On Thursday authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese city crushed and incinerated a ton of seized ivory in an action they hope will send a message to poachers and traffickers.
“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,” Paul Shin, head of the Endangered Species Advisory Committee, was quoted as saying by Voice of America.
Conservationists welcomed the move but said more must be done to address the demand side of the issue.
“Reducing consumer demand for ivory reduces the incentive for poachers to massacre elephants and for traffickers to engage in the illegal ivory trade,” said Humane Society International in a statement. “Destroying stockpiles of seized ivory raises awareness about the elephant poaching crisis and reminds current and potential buyers to avoid ivory.”
But Tom Milliken of Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, said it is still unclear whether destruction of stockpiles actually helps or hurts elephants.
“Conventionally, if you have a commodity in high demand and you reduce supply, you get an increase in price,” Milliken told Voice of America. “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.”
Researchers estimate that 22,000-35,000 elephants are slaughtered on an annual basis for their ivory. Most of the poaching takes places in Africa, especially in countries with poor governance.
Poaching is driven by growing demand for ivory, which is commonly used for luxury items and religious trinkets. China is the world’s biggest market, but countries like the U.S. are also major consumers.
Given the challenges of addressing the supply side of the ivory business, environmentalists have lately turned their attention to buyers and retailers. There are several high profile campaigns currently running in China, explaining to consumers that elephants are killed for their ivory — the product isn’t sustainably harvested or collected as many Chinese believe. Conservationists are also pressuring sellers: earlier this month three of the Hong Kong’s largest ivory retailers said they would stop selling ivory products.
The effort is also bringing in celebrities to raise awareness. Last week actor Leonardo Dicaprio pledged a million dollars to the Elephant Crisis Fund, an initiative that aims to tackle both supply and demand. Chinese celebrities like ex-NBA basketball star Yao Ming are doing public service announcements and tours to rally support for elephants.