Hong Kong government signals end to domestic ivory trade
GREAT NEWS that 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.
Andrew McVey, WWF-UK’s Programme Lead on African Elephants comments, “We’re thrilled to hear of our colleagues’ success, it sets a great precedent for other countries. We hope this development will have a positive impact on WWF-UK’s work to tackle the ivory trade with our African elephant programme, which aims to create stability for elephant populations and their habitats in 20 landscapes by 2017. In addition to this programme, we are working with governments, communities and other NGO’s on tackling all threats to this iconic species – poaching, demand for ivory, habitat loss and conflicts between people and elephants. Asia is home to some of the countries that harbour the greatest demand for ivory, with this latest development in Hong Kong, we are urging the governments of neighbouring countries to follow suit and quickly.”
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 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.
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.