Back in June I was in Manila, Philippines, photographing the wildlife authorities there crush and burn five tons of ivory.
Last week I was in Denver, Colorado, observing the United States do exactly the same, except that this time they only crushed the ivory, but didn't burn it.
I think this was a big mistake.
Incineration is a final step to remove any lingering doubts that the crushed ivory will ever be returned to the market.
Once in full force, the crushing machine looked like a ivory waterfall.
Federal cops guarded the stockpile at dawn before it was destroyed.
This US Fish & Wildlife Service officer carried a tusk like it was his own baby. Compassion for a dead elephant, perhaps?
African 'art' curios.
Ivory trinkets and tusks await their fate next to the crusher in the background.
US Fish & Wildlife Service officials place the tusks in an elaborate pyramid prior to crushing.
The tusk pile and the crusher.
Offloading from a flatbed truck, a big perspex box full of small ivory trinkets and jewellery such as bracelets and necklaces.
Much of this ivory jewellery was seized from US tourists returning home from abroad with illegal ivory.
The United Nations of Trinkets; Asia, Africa and the Middle East in one image.
A Chinese Guanyin statue in a cardboard box, missing her head.
A tacky Japanese ivory Geisha doll.
Made in bloody Hong Kong, unfortunately.
According to estimates, 30,000 elephants a year are being slaughtered for their tusks.
Ivory gravel being shovelled by wildlife officials.
The ivory gravel will be used for 'education' purposes under the CITES agreement. And now the Association of Zoos and Aquariums will inherit the headache of secure storage from US Fish & Wildlife. The Zoos and aquariums have been instructed to make 'monuments' for elephant conservation education. Call me cynical, but I'm sure they will be seeing an upsurge Chinese mainland tourists (many of them armed with small pen knives or chisels in their pockets) come through their gates once these monuments to long deceased elephants are open to the public.
A wildlife official points out the problem in Congo, with a forest elephant tusk.
A close up of crushed ivory.
A big piece of crushed ivory.
And finally, a couple of photos from Hong Kong. Taken at Star Company on Hollywood Road, by the escalator, to be precise.
These pairs of earrings made from so-called pre 1989 (ie pre-ban) ivory are tiny and worth around US$50 (the floral studs) and US$60 (the small elephants) respectively.
ALEX HOFFORD : UNITED STATES IVORY DESTRUCTION PHOTOGRAPHER
Today I was at a Philippines government event to destroy five tonnes of confiscated ivory.
People here are calling it the 'Big Crush'.
They used an excavator to crush the elephant tusks.
And a steam roller too.
Bits large and small were flying around all over the place, and I seriously almost got hit in the head by a flying tusk!
No one was wearing safety equipment. No hard hats or goggles in sight.
The five tonnes of ivory was taken from the confiscated ivory that had been smuggled into the Philippines from Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania.
The Philippines is a large ivory-consuming country in its own right, as well as a major smuggling transit point for ivory on its way to China.
Under the terms of the United Nations C.I.T.E.S. (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) agreement, the ivory has to be 'put beyond use' if it is not to be kept in storage or used for conservation or education purposes.
It was certainly 'put beyond use' today.
The initiative was organised by the 'Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau' (PAWB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of the Philippines government.
I just wish the Hong Kong government would do the right thing by the elephants, and follow the Philippines example in burning their ivory stockpile.
No one knows for sure, (and that's part of the problem), but some estimates point to them sitting on 20+ tonnes - all which I belive must be burnt too.
ALEX HOFFORD : PHILIPPINES ELEPHANT IVORY CONSERVATION PHOTOGRAPHER
Years of hard work paid off this week.
Usually I don't enter competitions, but this year I decided to. And so it happened that I actually won another one!
This time an Award for Excellence in the 'Environment (Nature, Wildlife) Picture Story' category of the 'Best of Photojournalism' competition held by the National Press Photographers Association, or NPPA. The NPPA is the United States' most respected association for visual journalists (photojournalists, TV news cameramen/women, editors etc). The award was for a set of overfishing images. (Click SEE MORE under the underwater image to bring up the slideshow).
Most of the pictures were taken by me on assignment for Greenpeace International, but a couple towards the end of the slideshow were taken on assignment for the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), or on freelance assignments in Asia.
The images highlight the industrial barbarity of the fishing industry that is wiping out the tunas and the sharks from our oceans...
ALEX HOFFORD : NATIONAL PRESS PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION BEST OF PHOTOJOURNALISM AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE ENVIRONMENT (NATURE, WILDLIFE) PICTURE STORY
What a great start to the week. I just got word that I won a photo contest with this picture:-
It won the Best Photo Feature award in the annual Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) and OnAsia Photo Contest.
I feel really honoured since the the contest this year attracted submissions from more than 375 photographers around the world with over 6,000 images. You can see a gallery of the some the fantastic images by the great photographers that I was up against, here.
The winning photo was taken on assignment with Greenpeace International (GPI). A full set of images that this single image was taken from can be viewed on the GPI Facebook page, here.
ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER THAILAND PHILIPPINES TUNA FCCT ONASIA PHOTO FEATURE CONTEST WINNER
Here's a set of shark fin images from Taiwan, that I've not had the chance to give the proper airing that they deserve.
I've been meaning to get these photos out, before they get too old.
Welcome to DongGang fish market, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
These images were taken on assignment with Greenpeace International as a part of their East Asia oceans campaign.
Often times, when I mention the shark fin trade in Taiwan people ask me, "But what about the 'fins-attached' policy?"
I tell them that on the day that I went there, and these photos were taken on 04 November 2012, I didn't see much of that, to be honest.
But here's one picture that does show a bit of that policy in action.
Note the mono-filament plastic fishing line that is binding the 'log' to the fins.
On the whole I saw mostly unattached fins.
I certainly didn't see a single inspector from the Taiwan Fisheries Agency.
But to be fair, here's an image I took on a Taiwanese longliner in 2011 that shows a frozen oceanic whitetip shark with it's fins attached to prove that it does actually go on. But to what extent, I don't know. For the record, this species is newly-protected by CITES.
Thresher shark fins being bagged up.
Finally, a poor hammerhead shark that has had his cephalofoils, or hammers, sliced off.
Sorry. Not very uplifting for a Friday afternoon, I do apologise.
Have a great, shark-free, weekend...
ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA TAIWAN KAOHSIUNG DONGGANG FISH MARKET SHARK FIN PHOTOGRAPHER
It seems last week's ivory seizure in Hong Kong, roused some indignation in the city's kids.
I wonder if these kids will ever be lucky enough to see an elephant in the wild like I have?
I hope so. But I doubt it if elephant poaching continues at current rates.
It's not just the sharks that need our help.
Please check the IFAW blog for more information on how we can help the elephants too.
ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA ELEPHANT IVORY CONSERVATION PHOTOGRAPHER
This is getting more than depressing.
Yesterday I was on a rooftop surrounded by the body parts of between 1,000 to 4,000 sharks.
Today I am in a customs facilty facing at the tusks of around 100 to 200 elephants.
We live in sick and twisted times. Between the corrupt Africans behind this, and the ignorant Chinese elite who by the stuff, we have marriage made in hell. A really big problem.
Below is my photo caption...
HONG KONG - 779 seized ivory tusks are seen laid out on the floor at a Hong Kong Government Customs and Excise facility in Tsing Yi, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China, 04 January 2013.
Hong Kong customs officers seized 03 January 2013 a total of 779 elephant tusks weighing 1,300 kilograms and worth roughly one million euro.
The tusks were hidden in a container of "architectural stones" arriving in Hong Kong from Kenya in Africa.
It is believed that the ivory was bound for mainland China where an increasingly affluent middle class is driving the trade in illegally-sourced endangered elephant ivory.
The tusks are usually carved into elaborate ornaments, figurines or into chopsticks for the wealthy elite.
Conservationists believe that the trade is thriving because it is the third such bust Hong Kong customs officers have made in as many months.
I asked a question at the press conference.
I asked an endangered species protection officer from the Hong Kong Agricultural and Fisheries and Conservation Department if there were any plans for the government to burn their stockpiles as a kind of publicity stunt, but also to ensure that none of the seized ivory would find it's way back onto the black market.
They said they had no plans to do so, but may consider it.
Let's hope so.
ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA ILLEGAL ELEPHANT IVORY TUSK PHOTOGRAPHER
Today there were less fins than yesterday. But the amount was still staggering.
Guestimate? 9,500 fins (mainly dorsal fins) from around 1,000 sharks.
We found two Chinese mainlanders from Guangzhou working there. Illegal workers breaching their conditions of stay?
There are illegal structures too. For drying the fins.
The building management, security and staff seem friendly enough, if just a little exasperated with all the attention!
Seems like every media organisation in town has paid this roof top a visit.
It's a public area, after all.
I met a worker from a unit on the 20/F, and some guys on the 18/F, all of whom said they are disgusted by the shark fin trade.
It's just a small minority who are the environmental criminals.
I'm now of the opinion that this place has been operating for a very long time, and it's only in the last three days that their activities have come to light.
Rhinos, elephants, tigers. Now sharks. When will it ever end?
I feel disgusted with humanity. These shark fins belong in the ocean, not the rooftop of an industrial building.
ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG SHARK FIN ROOF TOP PHOTOGRAPHER
I went back to the scene of a shark fin environmental catastrophe today.
We estimated 30,000 fins from around 4,000 sharks.
These images were take at Kwong Ga Factory Building, 64 Victoria Road, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong.
ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA KENNEDY TOWN ROOF TOP SHARK FIN PHOTOGRAPHER
The front line in the war against the shark fin trade in Hong Kong has shifted from the sidewalks to the roof tops.
Welcome to yet another oceans catastrophe.
This time it's on the roof top of Kwong Ga Factory Building, 64 Victoria Road, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, just in case anyone else would like to pay them a visit also. I know Gary Stokes of Sea Shepherd already has. Nice work, Gary!
The theory goes that after being exposed at street level, they have now sought to move their activities out of the public eye to avoid further backlash.
And that means, rooftops.
Seriously, could anyone please explain to me why the Hong Kong government continues to do nothing about this problem?
These ignorant people act with utter impunity to the ongoing crisis in the world's oceans.
Quick disclaimer. The above photo is someone else's. It was the original photo that popped up on Facebook yesterday, taken by someone who was paying that industrial building a visit for other reasons, and who would prefer to remain anonymous.
Finally, here's a quick map to show how this factory building fits into the grander scheme of things.
It's a slick operation. Straight off the boat and into the warehouse. A minimal journey time on land. Once the fins arrive onto the wharf by sea, it's a quick and easy journey through the gates of 'China Merchants Wharf' (a private, not Marine Department, wharf by the way), and into the warehouse literally across the road.
The question is, where are these 'wet' shark fins coming from? What is the exact chain of custody? Somebody needs to do some digging. What can we do to stop this?
ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA SHARK FIN ROOF TOP PHOTOGRAPHER