HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong started incinerating its nearly 30-ton stockpile of confiscated ivory on Thursday to show it’s serious about cracking down on an illegal wildlife trade that is devastating Africa’s elephant population.
Authorities destroyed the first batch by burning a metric ton of elephant tusks and carved ivory figurines and bracelets in a rotary kiln.
Destroying the 28-ton stockpile, which is one of the world’s biggest, is expected to take until mid-2015. The fine dark gray ash left after incineration will be mixed with cement and lime and dumped in a landfill. About 1.6 tons of ivory will be kept for educational or scientific purposes.
The destruction follows similar initiatives in the past year by Belgium, France, China, the U.S. and the Philippines.
Hong Kong’s stockpile has bulged as customs agents have intercepted a series of big shipments of smuggled ivory in recent years. The busts highlight the former British colony’s role as a transshipment hub for ivory shipped from Africa to mainland China, where demand is growing because of rising incomes.
Ivory can fetch up to $2,400 a kilogram in China, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which estimates poachers kill 35,000 elephants a year for their tusks, risking the animal’s extinction in the wild.