HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong will destroy most of its huge stockpile of confiscated illegal ivory in a process that could take up to two years, officials said Thursday.
The decision comes after similar action by mainland China, the U.S. and the Philippines.
Conservation groups had urged the southern Chinese city's government to dispose of the ivory to send a strong sign it's serious about cracking down on the black market trade that is decimating Africa's elephants.
Hong Kong is a major transshipment point for illegal ivory sent to mainland China and officials have seized about 32.5 tons of ivory in the past decade, making it one of the biggest stockpiles in the world.
Officials now have about 30 tons left in heavily guarded government warehouses after donating small amounts for legitimate purposes such as conservation awareness or scientific research.
Conservation officials said they decided to destroy most of the rest of stockpile "in view of the management burden and the security risk generated by prolonged storage of the forfeited ivory."
They expect to start disposing of the ivory in the first half of 2014. In a sign of just how big the stockpile is, the disposal is expected to take "about one to two years."
China's demand for ivory is soaring as rising incomes mean ivory carvings prized as status symbols are becoming more affordable.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare said in a 2011 report that ivory in China cost as much as $2,400 a kilogram. The group estimates 35,000 elephants a year are killed by poachers for their tusks, risking the animal's extinction in the wild.
Earlier this month, authorities in southern China destroyed about 6 tons of illegal ivory in a surprise move praised by conservation groups. The U.S. and the Philippines destroyed similar amounts last year.