Hong Kong bans import and export of ivory

Activists welcome ‘historic’ move to crack down on trade that is seen to help fuel rampant elephant poaching across Africa
AFP The Guardian 13 Jan 16;

Hong Kong will ban the import and export of ivory, the city’s leader announced on Wednesday, in a “historic” move hailed by animal welfare activists.

Chief executive Leung Chun-ying told lawmakers in his annual policy address that officials were determined to crack down on the trade in Hong Kong.

The southern Chinese city is a major hub of ivory sales and has been criticised by environmentalists for fuelling the illegal trade that leads to rampant poaching across Africa.

“The government is very concerned about the illegal poaching of elephants in Africa. It will kickstart legislative procedures as soon as possible to ban the import and export of elephant hunting trophies,” Leung said at the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

He added ministers will “actively explore other appropriate measures” to phase out the local ivory trade.

But he did not specify when the ban would be put in place.

Hong Kong has one of the busiest container terminals and airports in the world and often seizes ivory traded without authorisation. Ivory seizures reached a record 8,041kg in 2013.

The announcement was warmly welcomed by animal welfare activists – but they urged new laws to be implemented as soon as possible.

Alex Hofford from conservation group WildAid told AFP: “We are delighted that the Hong Kong government has finally announced that they will start to phase out the local ivory trade.”

He added: “We’re now urging the chief executive to set a timeline and follow through with concrete action as soon as possible.”

Elephant tusks are used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments with demand high in Asia and the Middle East.

Ivory is also popular with Chinese collectors who see it as a valuable investment.
A report by advocacy group Save the Elephants published in July said Hong Kong’s ivory market is helping push elephants towards extinction.

“History has shown that legal ivory sales only serve to provide a cover for illegal trade, which fuels the rampant poaching we see across Africa. Hong Kong has always been the epicentre of that trade,” Peter Knights of WildAid said in a statement, describing the announcement as a “historic step”.

Knights added the end of the trade “may be in sight” with prices falling in China, a key market.

According to official figures, 242 tonnes of ivory were sold in Hong Kong between 1990 and 2008, an average of around 13 tonnes a year. Since 2010, recorded sales have slowed to just a tonne a year.

China accounts for 70% of world demand for ivory, according to wildlife NGOs. They say China’s zeal for ivory is responsible for the death of 30,000 African elephants each year.

There are now an estimated 470,000 African elephants living in the wild, compared to 550,000 in 2006, said the NGO Elephants Without Borders.

The international trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Hong Kong government signals end to domestic ivory trade
WWF 13 Jan 16;

Hong Kong – Following a major anti-ivory campaign by WWF-Hong Kong, the city’s Chief Executive, C Y Leung, announced today that the government is actively exploring phasing out the domestic ivory trade.

The government is also set to strengthen efforts to tackle the illegal ivory trade.

Every year around 30,000 elephants are killed in Africa for their tusks, primarily to satisfy the demand for ivory products in Asia. Hong Kong is a key part of this trade as a major transit and retail hub, with a study last year revealing that there were more ivory items for sale in Hong Kong than in any other city in the world.

“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,” said Gavin Edwards, Conservation Director, WWF-Hong Kong. “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.”

Giving his annual policy address, Chief Executive Leung stressed that Hong Kong is very concerned about the poaching of elephants in Africa and stated that the government will consider “appropriate measures, such as enacting legislation to further ban the import and export of ivory and phase out the local ivory trade.”

Hong Kong said it will also impose heavier penalties for smuggling and the illegal trade in endangered species.

“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,” added Edwards.

Last year, WWF-Hong Kong launched its campaign to end the ivory trade in concert with other conservation organisations, legislators and with wide public support. In early September, WWF-Hong Kong released a report that revealed fundamental flaws in the regulations governing the domestic ivory trade, which allowed traders to launder illegal ivory from Africa – contributing directly to the elephant poaching crisis.

Yesterday, WWF handed in a petition to ban the trade signed by tens of thousands of Hong Kongers. The city’s lawmaking body, the Legislative Council, also passed a motion in December calling for the government to explore further restrictions on the ivory trade, so as to ultimately achieve a total ban on the trade.

“The Hong Kong government has listened to the voices of the city’s people and politicians who have been clearly calling for a ban,” said Cheryl Lo, Senior Wildlife Crime Officer, WWF-Hong Kong. “Hong Kong can now play a leadership role and strike a major blow against the global illegal ivory trade and wildlife crime.”

The decision follows the announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama in September 2015 that they would take significant and timely steps to halt their domestic commercial ivory trades.

It also comes as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) Standing Committee is meeting in Geneva – with ivory trafficking and elephant poaching high on the agenda.

Yesterday, the European Union tabled recommendations in relation to National Ivory Action Plans, including calling on Hong Kong to provide further information on its registration system for ivory and the implementation and enforcement of regulations for domestic ivory trade.

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