Tag Archives: USFWS

U.S. Ivory Regulation: A Q&A with Craig Hoover, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Kevin P. Ray, National Law Review
January 5, 2015
In response to concerns that poaching of African elephants is rapidly driving the species to extinction, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued Director’s Order No. 210, which tightened previous practice involving the import, export, and sale of African elephant ivory. The changes met with considerable resistance from a wide range of persons, including museum professionals, musicians, antiques dealers, and collectors. There has been not only consternation, but also confusion about what these changes mean for many transactions involving objects that may contain ivory components.
To help provide some clarity on what precipitated these changes, what the changes are, and what impact they may have, I spoke with Craig Hoover, Chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Trade and Conservation Branch, for a brief Q&A.
1.      What precipitated the action taken by USFWS in February 2014? (decimation of African elephant populations, alleged use of ivory sales to fund African and international terrorist activities, emerging international consensus on need to concerted action)
Hoover:  The President’s Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking [Executive Order, July 1, 2013] called for a whole-of-government approach, including enhancing domestic efforts, to combat wildlife trafficking.  This included taking all appropriate actions within our authority, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, to stop illegal trade in wildlife products.  In light of the dramatic rise in elephant poaching and illegal trade in ivory, and the increasing level of sophistication and organization in that poaching and illegal trade, as well as a clear U.S. role as a consumer market, we determined that a series of administrative actions under our existing authority to further regulate the import, export and domestic sale of elephant ivory was needed.
2.      News reports have alleged that illicit ivory sales have been used to finance terrorist group activities.[1] Has USFWS and/or the international community been monitoring such activities, and was this a motivating factor?
Hoover:  As our focus is on conservation, we largely leave this question to the Department of State, the Department of Defense and other agencies that address terrorism as a more direct mandate. That being said, we are certainly aware of the nexus between wildlife trafficking and insurgent groups and the destabilizing effect that poaching and illegal trade can have on other governments.  Thus, our administrative actions and the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking are positive efforts not just for conservation but also for people, particularly the local communities impacted by poaching and illegal trade.
3.      How was African elephant ivory regulated under U.S. law (including treaty law) prior to issuance of Director’s Order No. 210 (DO210)?
Hoover:  African elephant ivory has been regulated under U.S. laws and regulations, including the African Elephant Conservation Act (AECA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), for many years.  Under the AECA, we’ve had a moratorium on the import of ivory in place since 1989 though, as a matter of enforcement discretion, we allowed the import of certain items to continue. Imports and exports have also been strictly regulated under the ESA and CITES regulations.
4.      How does DO210 modify prior practice with respect to the import, export, sale and transfer of African elephant ivory?
Hoover:  As noted above, the United States has had a moratorium on the import of African elephant ivory since 1989. As a matter of enforcement discretion, we were allowing certain African elephant ivory imports to continue despite the moratorium. DO210 narrowed the scope of those exceptions, particularly by prohibiting all commercial imports regardless of the age of the ivory.  It also limits non-commercial imports to household moves and inheritances, musical instruments, and museum specimens that meet certain requirements. DO210 does not impact possession, sale or domestic transfer of African elephant ivory.  More information about the Director’s Order and its impacts can be found here. [U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Director’s Order No. 210]
5.      Is DO210 part of a concerted effort to combat the illicit killing of African elephants and the sale of their ivory?
Hoover:  As described in the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, DO210 is one of several administrative actions that, when all are completed, will impose a near total ban on the trade in elephant ivory in the United States. We identified these actions as necessary to ensure that the United States, as a market for ivory, is not contributing to poaching and illegal trade, and to position the United States to encourage other countries to take similar actions to address their roles in the ongoing wildlife trafficking crisis.
6.      Why was DO210 amended? What is the effect of this amendment?
Hoover:  We revised DO210 on May 15, 2014 to address concerns, particularly from musicians and museums, about the DO210 criteria we initially laid out in February. This amendment addressed those concerns while still achieving our goal of limiting imports of African elephant ivory to certain non-commercial activities that are not contributing to poaching and illegal trade.  The only change that related to African elephant ivory was to the date after which the item has not subsequently been transferred from one person to another person for financial gain or profit.  The original date was Feb. 26, 1976 (the date the African elephant was first listed under CITES); the amendment changed this date to Feb. 25, 2014 (the date DO210 was issued).
7.      After the effective date of DO210, is any commercial importation or exportation of African elephant ivory permitted?
Hoover:  No commercial import is allowed. As a matter of enforcement discretion, we had been allowing the import of African elephant ivory items that were more than 100 years old. As of the issuance of DO210, we no longer allow the import of any African elephant ivory for commercial purposes, regardless of age. Commercial export of African elephant ivory is allowed under current ESA regulations, provided our general and CITES permitting requirements are met.
8.      After the effective date of DO210, what non-commercial importation or exportation of African elephant ivory is permitted?
Hoover:  We continue to allow the non-commercial import of the following, under certain conditions: sport-hunted trophies; law enforcement and bona fide scientific specimens; and worked elephant ivory that was legally acquired and removed from the wild prior to Feb. 26, 1976 and has not been sold since Feb. 25, 2014, as part of a household move or inheritance (read more), as part of a musical instrument (read more), and as part of a traveling exhibition (read more).
9.      What other types of ivory are used, and how will they be affected by these actions?
Hoover:  These actions will not affect ivory derived from other species such as walrus, warthog, hippopotamus, mammoth and mastodon. Asian elephant ivory is already regulated under the ESA and CITES. Ivory derived from toothed whales is already regulated by the ESA, CITES and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Strict application of the definition of antique may limit some Asian elephant and whale ivory trade. Refer to our Q&A about antiques for more information.
10.  How can I tell the difference between elephant ivory and other types of ivory?
Hoover:  Buyer beware. Proceed with caution if you intend to purchase a product made of ivory. Ask for documentation that shows the species and age of the ivory item you are purchasing. This documentation could include CITES permits or certificates, certified appraisals, documents that detail date and place of manufacture, etc. It is possible to identify elephant ivory from other types of ivory. For more information, please visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Forensics Laboratory website.
11.  After the issuance of DO210, is it permissible for a museum or musician to purchase objects that contain African elephant ivory outside of the U.S. and import them into the U.S.?
Hoover:  No. Under the terms of DO210, items containing worked African elephant may not have been transferred from one person to another person for financial gain or profit since Feb. 25, 2014.  Items obtained via a commercial transaction after Feb. 25, 2014, would not qualify for the exceptions for musical instruments or museum specimens.
12.  After the date of DO210, may a museum or musician either import an object containing African elephant ivory into the U.S. or export such an object from the U.S. for temporary travel or exhibition?
Hoover:  Yes.  See the criteria laid out in Section 2 of DO210 for traveling exhibitions and musical instruments.
13.  For a museum wishing to export an object containing African elephant ivory for a temporary exhibition, what is the procedure to be followed?
Hoover:  Export of African elephant ivory is governed by different rules and restrictions.  Commercial export of CITES Pre-Convention worked ivory, including antiques, that meet CITES permitting requirements, is allowed.  Noncommercial exports must meet CITES permitting requirements.  Export of any raw ivory is prohibited under the AECA and ESA.  However, if the item is intended for return to the United States, it must meet the import requirements identified above.
14.  If USFWS determines that an African elephant ivory item is imported contrary to the provisions of AECA, DO210, CITES or ESA requirements, what process is afforded the importer to dispute that determination?
Hoover:  If we determine that the item was imported in violation of relevant wildlife laws and regulations, that item will be refused clearance.  Depending on the particular situation, the item may be seized or made available for re-export.  Congress has given USFWS the authority to seize property and to use non-judicial civil procedures to forfeit the seized property to the United States.  After seizure of the property that the Government intends to pursue in a civil forfeiture action, we issue a letter termed “Notice of Seizure and Proposed Forfeiture” (NOSPF). The NOSPF gives interest holders notice of the seizure and proposed administrative forfeiture of the seized property, notice of the availability of administrative and judicial processes for contesting the proposed forfeiture, and notice of applicable deadlines for utilizing these processes.  The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA) and Interior regulations provide for alternative and not sequential remedies for administrative forfeiture: once notified, an interested party may choose to allow the forfeiture to proceed administratively or may compel the Government to initiate a judicial forfeiture action by filing a claim for the property.  The relevant statute and regulations can be found at 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(2)(B) and 50 C.F.R. 12.23 and 12.24.
 15. What is meant by the ESA antiques exception?
Hoover:  The import, export and interstate sale (sale across state lines) of listed species or their parts is prohibited without an ESA permit except for items that qualify as “antique”.  To qualify as antique, the importer, exporter or seller must show that the item meets all of these criteria:
A.  It is 100 years or older;
B.   It is composed in whole or in part of an ESA-listed species;
C.   It has not been repaired or modified with any such species after December 27, 1973; and
D.  It is being or was imported through an endangered species “antique port.”
Under Director’s Order 210, as a matter of enforcement discretion, items imported prior to September 22, 1982 (the date the “antique ports” were designated), and items created in the United States and never imported must comply with elements A, B, and C above, but not element D.
Because the African elephant is regulated under the ESA via a “special rule”, the ESA exception for antiques does not apply.  Rather, the language of the “special rule” dictates what is allowed and prohibited under the ESA.
16. What is an endangered species antique port?
Hoover:  In establishing the antique exception under the ESA, Congress directed what was then the U.S. Customs Service to identify specific ports of entry where antiques made from endangered and threatened species can be imported. There are 13 of these locations: Boston, Massachusetts; New York, New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Miami, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; New Orleans, Louisiana; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; Anchorage, Alaska; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Chicago, Illinois.
17.  The Director’s Order refers to worked African elephant ivory that “was legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976.” What does that mean?
Hoover:  February 26, 1976, is the date the African elephant was first listed under CITES (the pre-Convention date). An item that contains African elephant ivory that was removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976, is considered to be a pre-Convention specimen. This does not mean that the current owner must have purchased or acquired it prior to 1976, but that the item was manufactured from ivory that was taken from the wild prior to 1976. For example, a musical instrument that was manufactured in 1965 using African elephant ivory would be considered a pre-Convention specimen. Likewise, an instrument manufactured in 1985 using ivory acquired by the manufacturer in 1975 would also be considered a pre-Convention specimen. Since it is unlawful to possess specimens that have been traded contrary to CITES or taken in violation of the ESA, the ivory must have been legally acquired.
18.  Can I currently sell elephant ivory products within the United States?
Hoover:  African elephant ivory that a seller can demonstrate was lawfully imported prior to January 18, 1990—the date that the African elephant was listed in CITES Appendix I—and ivory imported under a CITES pre-Convention certificate can be sold within the U.S. (across state lines and within a state) provided that no state laws are violated during the transaction.  Some states have also taken steps to limit commerce in ivory. Asian elephant ivory sold in interstate commerce within the U.S. must meet the strict criteria of the ESA antiques exception.
Because the current rules regarding interstate commerce are different for African elephant ivory compared to Asian elephant ivory, a seller must be able to identify the ivory to species. This could be demonstrated using CITES permits or certificates, a qualified appraisal, or documents that detail date and place of manufacture, etc.
19.  Why is USFWS allowing limited imports for non-commercial purposes to continue, but restricting the commercial importation of antiques made from African elephant ivory?
Hoover:  The U.S. is a market for objects made from African elephant ivory, which drives increasing poaching of wild elephants. We have determined that it must take every administrative and regulatory action to cut off import of raw and worked elephant ivory where that importation is for commercial purposes. Allowing imports for law enforcement and scientific purposes is in line with our mission to help conserve African elephants and stop trafficking in African elephant ivory. The other limited exceptions allow movement into the U.S. of legally possessed African elephant ivory that predates the listing under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for personal use as part of a household move or inheritance, musical performances, and traveling exhibitions. Each of these types of import must meet specific criteria. And unlike the commercial antiques trade, none of these types of imports has been used extensively by smugglers to “cover” trafficking in newly poached ivory.
 20.  For an object to qualify under the antique exception, what documentation or proof is required?
Hoover:  DO210 Appendix A lays out in great detail the documentation requirements for items to meet the ESA exemption for antiques.
21.  Is ownership and use of personally owned elephant ivory items affected?
Hoover:  Personal possession of legally acquired items containing elephant ivory will remain legal. Worked African elephant ivory imported for personal use as part of a household move or as an inheritance and worked African elephant ivory imported as part of a musical instrument or a traveling exhibition will continue to be allowed provided the worked ivory has not been transferred from one person to another person in pursuit of financial gain or profit after February 25, 2014, and the item is accompanied by a valid CITES document. The import of raw African elephant ivory, other than sport-hunted trophies, is prohibited.
22. May lawfully possessed African elephant ivory be transferred to others?  By gift?  By bequest?  Does a charitable gift or bequest to a museum or other charitable institution qualify as a transfer not “for financial gain” for purposes of DO210 if the donor receives a charitable tax deduction for the donation?
Hoover:  Lawfully imported and possessed African elephant ivory can be used for noncommercial purposes, including transfer, bequest, or charitable gift, within the U.S. Such items can also be sold if the seller can demonstrate that the ivory was lawfully imported prior to the date the African elephant was listed in CITES Appendix I (January 18, 1990) or was imported under a CITES pre-Convention certificate.
We intend to revise the ESA “special rule” for the African elephant, including further restricting sale across state lines.   Before finalizing those regulations, we will publish a proposed rule in theFederal Register for public review and comment.
23.  Are any further modifications to DO210 or to the importation, exportation, or interstate sale of ivory anticipated at this time?
Hoover:  We do not plan to revise DO210.  However, as noted above, we do intend to revise the ESA “special rule” for the African elephant, further restricting interstate sale of ivory and incorporating at least some aspects of DO210 into its regulations.  These regulations will be published as a proposed rule subject to public comment before being finalized, likely in 2015.
Additional information about the USFWS rules concerning the import, export, and sale of ivory is available on the USFWS’s ivory FAQ.
[1] See, e.g., Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.), “How Poaching Fuels Terrorism Funding,” CNN.com, Oct. 22, 2014, available here;  Johan Bergenas and Monica Medina, “Break the Link Between Terrorism Funding and Poaching,” The Washington Post, January 31, 2014, available here. Others have challenged this claim.  See, e.g., Tristan McConnell, “Illegal Ivory May Not Be Funding African Terror Group,” USA Today, Nov. 14, 2014, available here.

Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Rhino and Ivory Smuggling Conspiracy

Enews Park Forest

24 Jun 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—June 24, 2014. Ning Qiu, a resident of Frisco, Texas, and an appraiser of Asian art, pleaded guilty today in federal court to participating in an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which rhinoceros horns and objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory worth nearly $1 million were smuggled from the United States to China.

The guilty plea was announced by Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, John Malcolm Bales, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Qiu, 43, who has worked as an Asian antique appraiser for seven years, pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Don D. Bush in Plano, Texas, to a one count information charging him with conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act.

Qiu was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

According to documents filed in federal court, Qiu admitted to acting as one of the three antique dealers in the United States paid by Zhifei Li, the admitted “boss” of the conspiracy, to help obtain wildlife items and smuggle them to Li via Hong Kong. Li was sentenced on May 27, 2014, in federal district court in Newark, New Jersey, to serve 70 months in prison for his leadership role in the smuggling conspiracy. Li arranged financing, negotiated the price and paid for rhino horn and elephant ivory. He also gave instructions on how to smuggle the items out of the United States and obtained the assistance of additional collaborators in Hong Kong to receive the smuggled goods and then smuggle them to him in mainland China.

“This is yet another step toward dismantling a sophisticated and global network of criminals whose greed is driving endangered animals to extinction,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Hirsch. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those involved in the illicit trade of the world’s wildlife and will work with our international partners to battle the poaching, corruption, and transnational crime that goes along with it.”

“I am pleased that the Eastern District of Texas could be a part of the ‘Operation Crash’ investigation as well as the guilty plea today, and I congratulate the investigative team for a job well done,” said U.S. Attorney Bales. “The criminal activity undertaken by the defendant in this case is a stark reminder that this matter is not about serving Asian cultural and medicinal practices; it’s about greed, organized crime and the depletion of a species that – without our focused efforts to fight this trade – may not be around for our children to see.”

“This guilty plea by another participant in one of the largest criminal trafficking rings we’ve ever investigated – as well as the unprecedented jail time given to the rings’ leader last month – serves notice to other poachers and smugglers that we are clamping down hard on those who break international wildlife laws,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe. “Working with the Department of Justice and other federal and international law enforcement agencies, we will continue to relentlessly pursue criminals whose greed and indifference to life are fueling the continued slaughter of rhinos and other vulnerable species in the wild.”

The rhinoceros is an herbivorous species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law. Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by more than 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.

In pleading guilty, Qiu admitted that he worked at an auction house in Dallas as an appraiser of Asian artwork and antiques, specializing in carvings made from rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory. Qiu admitted to meeting Li in 2009 through his work at the auction house, and then entering into a conspiracy with Li whereby Qiu traveled throughout the U.S. to purchase raw and carved rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory for Li, often receiving specific instructions from Li on which items to buy and how much to pay. Upon purchasing the items, Li transferred funds directly into Qiu’s bank accounts in the U.S. and China. After acquiring the items for Li, Qiu arranged for them to be smuggled to a location in Hong Kong, which was provided by Li.

As part of his plea, Li admitted that he sold raw rhinoceros horns worth approximately $3 million – approximately $17,500 per pound – to factories in China where the horns are carved into fake antiques known as zuo jiu (which means “to make it as old” in Mandarin). In China, there is a centuries-old tradition of drinking from intricately carved “libation cups” made from rhinoceros horn. Owning or drinking from such a cup is believed by some to bring good health, and true antiques are highly prized by collectors. The escalating value of such items has resulted in an increased demand for rhinoceros horn that has helped fuel a thriving black market, including recently carved fake antiques. The leftover pieces from the carving process were sold for alleged “medicinal” purposes even though rhino horn is made of compressed keratin, the same material in human hair and nails and has no proven medical value.

Between 2009 and 2013, Qiu purchased and smuggled to Hong Kong at least five raw rhinoceros horns weighing at least 20 pounds. Qiu smuggled the raw rhino horns by first wrapping them in duct tape, hiding them in porcelain vases and falsely describing them on customs and shipping documents, including by labeling them as porcelain vases or handicrafts.

As part of the plea agreement, having considered Qiu’s cooperation and assistance in securing a conviction for Li, the government agrees to recommend to the sentencing judge that Qiu serve a 25-month prison sentence and pay a $150,000 fine. Sentencing will be before District Court Judge Richard Schell on a date to be determined by the court.

The investigation is continuing and is being handled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Noble of the Eastern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Article link:

http://www.enewspf.com/latest-news/law-and-order/federal-and-international/53938-texas-man-pleads-guilty-to-rhino-and-ivory-smuggling-conspiracy.html

Crush course

Alex Hofford, South China Morning Post
December 15, 2013

Thick clouds of fine, choking white dust fill the winter afternoon air as a giant rockcrushing machine rumbles on. Coughing and spluttering, I struggle to hold my gaze as the spectacle is lost behind swirling clouds.

A cascade of crushed ivory is spewed out by a giant blue machine used more often to crush stones to mix with bitumen than grind up parts of an endangered species from another continent.

Surrounded by conservationists and journalists looking on in deafened awe, wildlife officials in hard hats and highvisibility vests load an excavator with large pieces from a giant pile of elephant tusks and with carved ivory statuettes, trinkets and jewellery. The excavator shuttles back and forth, from tusk pile to rock crusher, feeding the metallic beast as it feasts upon what remains of countless herds of elephants.

This was the scene Hong Kong schoolgirls Lucy Skrine, 11, and Christina Seigrist, eight, hoped to witness in their hometown when they started a petition (bit.ly/BanHKIvoryTrade) through online activist network Avaaz in September to have the city’s stockpile of more than 33 tonnes of confiscated ivory destroyed. It was the scenario they wanted to achieve with the 10,000 signatures they asked for.

But this is not Hong Kong. The rock crusher is at work in Denver, Colorado, where it is crushing the United States government’s six-tonne stockpile of ivory seized from tourists and smugglers at the country’s land borders and airports since the 1980s.

Wildlife officials say it is hard to estimate exactly, but they believe the total being crushed here amounts to the tusks of between 1,000 and 2,000 elephants – a fraction of the number of dead animals represented by Hong Kong’s stockpile.

In June, the Philippine government crushed and burnt its five-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory; and since 1992, three elephant range states in Africa – Zambia, Kenya and Gabon – have destroyed by incineration their seized ivory stockpiles. The five nations that have now destroyed their confiscated ivory stockpiles have (along with the Indian state of Maharashtra and France, which has just announced it is to follow suit) sent an unequivocal message to poachers in Africa, ivory dealers everywhere and consumers in China that the trade will not be tolerated by their governments.

“If Manila can do it, and Denver can do it, why can’t Hong Kong follow their lead?” asks Lucy.

The girls are protesting against what they describe as a brutal trade in blood ivory going on right under the noses of Hong Kong officials, because here the legal market for ivory has been providing cover for a parallel illegal market for decades. Retailers are allowed to sell ivory in Hong Kong as long as it has come from pre-1989-ban stocks or the 108 tonnes four African nations sold to China in 2008, and has been carved in the city. There is no way to ascertain whether a particular piece of ivory in a shop conforms to these stipulations or not, though.

Their petition captured the public imagination. Supporters joined forces to form Hong Kong for Elephants, an NGO whose members staged a vigil for the dead outside a Kowloon branch of Chinese Arts & Crafts – thought to be the city’s major ivory retailer – on October 4, as part of the International March for Elephants.

The demand for ivory in China is now so strong that poaching in Africa has reached unprecedented levels, with some conservationists warning that unless something is done – and fast – elephants will be extinct in the wild within a decade. The US government and conservation body WWF believe that about 36,000 elephants are being killed each year for their tusks. That’s a devastating 96 per day, or one every 15 minutes.

“By crushing its contraband ivory tusks and trinkets, the US government is sending a signal that it will not tolerate the senseless killing of elephants,” said WWF president and chief executive Carter Roberts in a US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) press release. “Other countries need to join the US, Gabon, Kenya and the Philippines to take a stand against the crime syndicates behind this slaughter.”

US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell echoes Roberts’ sentiments in the release: “Rising demand for ivory is fuelling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent. We encourage other nations to join us both in destroying confiscated ivory stockpiles and taking other actions to combat wildlife crime.”

The logic behind the destruction of ivory is that, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) agreement, any government-seized ivory would never be made available to the market, anyway. Therefore, its destruction sends a powerful message to traffickers while having no impact on the overall supply, and thus not creating an incentive for poaching.

One aspect of the stockpile crush in the US troubles some wildlife groups, however. The USFWS, which organised the Denver crush, stopped short of incineration, ostensibly out of concerns about emissions. So, in effect, it has left itself some unfinished business.

Wildlife officials are instead planning to give the crushed ivory to the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which will then divide it up and send it to member zoos across the country, to be made into elephant conservation memorials. In so doing, the USFWS will pass the security headache – and cost – of maintaining safe custody of the crushed ivory to individual zoos. Since ivory is worth even more than gold by weight, though, it’s hard to imagine how some pieces will not go missing in the process.

“The decision to donate crushed ivory to American zoos is misguided,” says Joyce Poole, co-director of ElephantVoices and a renowned Kenya-based elephant behavioural scientist and advocate. “A monument to slaughtered elephants to remind people of the terrible consequences of trading in the body parts of animals is important, but using elephant ivory is in bad taste. Would we use human body parts in a memorial to those men and women who have succumbed to war?

“Furthermore, the chunks of ivory are still large enough for criminals to remove and make into small items of jewellery for resale. The crushed ivory should be incinerated and put beyond reach.”

It is also not entirely inconceivable that the AZA may one day be the subject of a buyout similar to that in September of Smithfield, America’s biggest pork producer, which merged with Shuanghui, its counterpart in China. If the zoos association were to one day be rescued by a Chinese white knight, all its assets, including any elephant memorials made of crushed ivory, would probably become the property of the new owner, to do with as it pleased. It is therefore possible that, notwithstanding any of the trade bans currently being lobbied for in the US Congress, the market could become flooded with tiny gravel-sized trinkets, such as the ivory stud earrings that retail for HK$480 a pair in shops on Hollywood Road, made with the ivory crushed in Denver.

“If the crushed ivory ends up as small, usable, raw pieces, there is the risk that this can be reused and so, perhaps, a more thorough means of destruction such as incineration may be necessary,” says Sharon Kwok, a Hong Kong-based conservationist and executive director of the AquaMeridian Conservation and Education Foundation.

Other conservationists are satisfied to adopt a less purist approach, however. “Crushing is a symbolic measure,” says Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “[The actions of ] both the US and Philippines … are particularly important for Hong Kong, as Hong Kong is not just a pure consumer region, it’s a transit region as well. Hong Kong is a gateway for mainland China [and it] is really important for China to follow suit.

“If the Hong Kong authorities are able to incinerate the ivory without emissions, then sure, but if they are crushing it and we’re worried that the little bits and pieces will have nowhere to go, then maybe the officials can dump it in the sea when it is crushed. It can be done in really deep sea.”

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has, in fact, already conducted a successful trial burn. Last year, it incinerated three tonnes of confiscated ivory in the extreme high temperature environment of the Tsing Yi Chemical Waste Treatment Centre. Not only did the trial burn give off zero emissions, it even generated power.

When asked, a department spokesman indicates that a Hong Kong crush is not entirely out of the question: “Since 2003, seizure of ivory amounts to about 32 tonnes, which makes up the bulk of the ivory stockpile in Hong Kong. The AFCD has been exploring destruction as a means to dispose of the confiscated ivory, [as] permitted under the Cites guidelines.

“When we come to a more concrete proposal, the Endangered Species Advisory Committee, a [local] statutory advisory body on protection of endangered species, will be consulted.”

All eyes in the elephant conservation world are now on Hong Kong – with its huge stockpile, will it crush, crush and burn, or do nothing?

Unfortunately, there seems to be a paralysis in the city. With awareness levels roughly where they were 10 years ago on the shark-fin issue, the current poaching crisis is just not on the radar of the average Hongkonger. Even WWF Hong Kong does not have an active ivory reduction campaign.

Activists fear that if Hong Kong, which plays a large role in the ivory trade – not only as a major transit point for the mainland but also as a large consumer in its own right – does not wake up to this pressing issue soon, it could be too late.

As Lucy and Christina’s petition approaches the 10,000-signature mark, another youngster, Hong Kong International School Year Six student Nellie Shute, 11, has also taken action.

Nellie successfully lobbied her school principal to return to the AFCD the ivory tusks and carved ivory pieces it had loaned to her school under what she believes is the misguided Endangered Species Specimen Donation Programme.

“The tusk and ivory carvings on display in my school were not educating students, they were reinforcing the idea that it’s acceptable to display ivory as artwork,” says Nellie. “Now my school has agreed to send them back with a petition signed by students asking for the ivory stockpile to be destroyed.

“I’m trying to make change because I refuse to believe that’s the future. I don’t want to tell the next generation that there used to be these magnificent creatures, but human greed ended their existence and we did nothing to stop it.”

On the subject of elephant conservation, it seems, Hong Kong’s schoolchildren are putting the city’s adults to shame.