Great News as Hong Kong Finally Moves to Ban Ivory Trade

To give you an idea of just how devastatingly out of control the ivory trade is, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), a leading conservation organization focused on Africa, estimates that every year up to 33,000 elephants are killed for their ivory across Africa.

33,000.

Because of the high value of ivory, especially in China, elephants are under severe threat from poaching. As the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) explains, though their meat and skin are also traded, elephant’s ivory tusks are the most sought after, and tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year for their tusks.

The ivory is often carved into ornaments and jewelry, and China is the biggest consumer market for such products.

The WWF estimates that in the early part of the 20th century, there may have been as many as 3-5 million African elephants, but there are now around 470,000.

With the way things are going, experts warn that African elephants could be extinct in the wild within a few decades.

In hopeful news, on January 13 during his annual policy address, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, announced plans to ban the domestic ivory trade. As the AP reports, the Chinese city will take steps to implement a total ban on the sale of ivory in response to concerns over poaching which has dramatically reduced elephant populations throughout Africa.

So is it time for elephant lovers around the world to rejoice? Well, not exactly. But we can certainly crack an optimistic grin.

The significance of this announcement can be tied to the fact that as a major transit and retail hub, Hong Kong is a key part of the ivory trade, so much so that a study last year revealed that there were more ivory items for sale in Hong Kong than in any other city in the world.

Adding to the significance, the AP points out that Hong Kong is “a major conduit for ivory bound for mainland China.” But isn’t ivory trading legal there?

Yes and no.

A report by WWF-Hong Kong came out in September which reveals “seven fundamental weaknesses in the regulation of Hong Kong’s legal ivory market, which facilitate illegal activities such as the smuggling of ivory from poached elephants in Africa and the laundering of illegal ivory with the city’s legal ivory stock.”

The report lays out how legal ivory is being used as a front for the illegal ivory trade. Ivory traders claim that the sale of these items is legal, since they are drawn from a stockpile of ivory imported more than 25 years ago –imports that were made illegal in 1990.

But the supply of ivory and profits from ivory sales are suspiciously not dwindling, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that elephants are still being slaughtered for their tusks.

Clearly current rules and regulations are not working when it comes to protecting what’s left of the African elephant population, so Hong Kong’s recent announcement about banning domestic ivory trade is promising news indeed, and I would add–crucial, if there is to be hope for the survival of this species.

After Chun-ying’s announcement, WWF-Hong Kong Conservation Director Gavin Edwards said, “The Chief Executive’s decision represents a significant step toward the end of Hong Kong’s ivory trade and a major milestone for elephant conservation,” adding, “It is no longer a question of if a ban is needed – we can focus on when and how to end Hong Kong’s ivory trade.”

In September during an in-person meeting in the U.S, U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping committed to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.

With Chun-ying’s announcement, it seems China is making moves to keep up its end of the agreement.

Six weeks before the pledge, Hong Kong’s lawmaking body—the Legislative Council— unanimously passed a motion to ban the city’s domestic ivory trade, a clear indication that lawmakers across Hong Kong’s political divide are in agreement on this issue.

The Chinese people seem to agree as well. According to the AP, this legislative support mirrored public opinion, noting a May survey by the University of Hong Kong which revealed that 75 percent of Hong Kong’s citizens strongly supported a ban on the ivory trade.

As Cheryl Lo, Senior Wildlife Crime Officer, WWF-Hong Kong put it, “The Hong Kong government has listened to the voices of the city’s people and politicians who have been clearly calling for a ban.”

For the record, here’s Hong Kong’s official announcement from its January 13th Policy Address:

“The Government is very concerned about the illegal poaching of elephants in Africa. It will kick start legislative procedures as soon as possible to ban the import and export of elephant hunting trophies and actively explore other appropriate measures, such as enacting legislation to further ban the import and export of ivory and phase out the local ivory trade, and imposing heavier penalties on smuggling and illegal trading of endangered species. Meanwhile, the Government will strengthen enforcement and take rigorous action against the smuggling and illegal trade in ivory.”

Sounds pretty promising, eh? So why limit ourselves to an optimistic grin instead of an all out celebratory smile?

Because while those words sound good on paper—what it will come down to is action. Will Hong Kong make good on its promises? Only time will tell.

As WWF’s Edwards put it, “The government must rapidly implement this decision and develop a concrete timeline to phase out the ivory trade because there is no time to waste.”

Agreed.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

91 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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angel l.
Angela L1 years ago

I hope people should know better not to use ivory, nor should any human abuse any animals. Humans are actually the root of all evils.

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Past Member
Margo C1 years ago

Good news, hope it's the start of much needed progress throughout the world!

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Steph O.
Stephanie O1 years ago

Take my hat off to Hong Kong

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Neville B.
Neville B1 years ago

Yay! Go Hong Kong!

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Christina Klein
Christina Klein1 years ago

Good news!!

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Christina Klein
Christina Klein1 years ago

That´s great!!

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Dianne D.
Dianne D1 years ago

Every baby step helps.

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Lawren R.
Lawren R1 years ago

Nice that this disgusting practice is now banned. I wish these sick people faced harsher penalties and all this senseless killing would end. I hate all hunters,mpoachers, animal abusers.

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Marie W.
Marie W1 years ago

Everyone must ban.

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