Ivory has long been a coveted item around the world, especially in Asian countries. It’s considered “white gold” by many, yet this designation breeds disconnection between the product and who it’s taken from – Africa’s elephants.

In 2012, a shocking 22,000 African elephants were slaughtered for their tusks, with some even hacked off while the elephant was still breathing.

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Indeed, it is market demand for ivory that fuels elephant poaching, which not only brutally kills thousands every year, but also hampers entire ecosystems as elephants are a vital keystone species.

However, it looks like the world is getting more serious about elephant protection and the poaching epidemic — finally!

In November 2013, the U.S. stepped up to the plate and destroyed its entire stockpile confiscated ivory. Then, in December 2013, China along with 29 other nations (including the U.S.) signed an agreement to adopt 14 measures that would criminalize poaching and ensure better protection of elephants and other wildlife crime victims such as rhinos.

A month later, in January 2014, China took a page from the U.S. and destroyed six tons of illegal ivory from their stockpile – a move many applauded as prior to it, China had taken few public steps to deter poaching and the ivory trade.

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Now, just a month later, Hong Kong has announced its plans to destroy 28 tons of its ivory stockpile, which is one of the largest in the world – amounting to nearly 32.4 tons over the past 10 years, Associated Press reports via ABC News.

Even though China has the largest ivory market by far, Hong Kong has developed into a major transshipment area for illegal ivory, where it is then transported right into mainland China.

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This is why Hong Kong’s destruction of ivory is definitely something to celebrate as it will send a clear message to ivory collectors, traders, and poachers that ivory is on its way out and is diminishing in both value and widespread acceptance.

As African Wildlife Foundation CEO Dr. Patrick Bergin said in a statement, “The culture of ivory worship in Hong Kong is deep-rooted and centuries-old, which makes the decision to destroy any ivory … that much more extraordinary. The public destruction of Hong Kong’s stockpile will raise awareness among ivory collectors and those who aspire to own ivory that their coveted product has a dark side, one that is connected to wholesale elephant slaughter, civil unrest, terrorism, and a complex supply network of criminals and corrupted officials.”

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Hong Kong’s ivory burn will be done in three batches — the first starting in June, and subsequent batches to follow over the next year or two.

While Hong Kong’s decision should certainly be applauded, we must not lose sight of the bigger goal: an end to poaching for good, which means strong laws and enforcement, effective anti-ivory purchase campaigns, and a shutdown of ivory carving factories. As the saying goes, “When the buying stops, the killing can too.”

Image source: USFWS Mountain Prairie / Flickr

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