Hong Kong Ivory Ban Throws ‘Lifeline’ to Elephants

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The fate of our planet’s elephants still hangs in the balance. Photo (c) Martin Middlebrook

Hong Kong’s ban on ivory will mark the closure of the last major ivory hub in Asia and has been hailed as “a lifeline for elephants”.

Hong Kong has voted to pass a bill shutting down its ivory trade, after a similar move by China late last year. Campaigners say the closure of these ivory markets could trigger other bans this year.

The move in Hong Kong comes after a huge public campaign, including hundreds demonstrating in the city and a one-million-strong global petition.

“Shutting down this massive ivory market has thrown a lifeline to elephants,” says Bert Wander, campaign director of Avaaz, a global campaign platform. “People all over the globe are standing up for these magnificent creatures and governments are listening. First it was China, then Hong Kong and next we’re taking this ban to Europe to stop the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory.”

Since China’s ban was announced by President Xi Jinping in September 2015, ivory prices in Hong Kong dropped precipitously. From a high of US$2,100 per kilo in 2014, the price has now dropped to US$766 per kilo of pre-Convention ivory with paperwork; or US$383 per kilo for black-market smuggled ivory from recently killed elephants.

Hong Kong’s new law will ban the import and re-export of pre-Convention ivory into and out of the country by July this year, and the sale of all post-1925 ivory by December 2021.

Alex Hofford at WildAid said: “Today is a great day for elephants. Hong Kong has always been the ‘heart of darkness’ of the ivory trade with a 670-tonne stockpile when international trade was banned in 1989.”

He described how the campaign began with the destruction of the seized ivory stockpile. Then WildAid persuaded Hong Kong’s four large department stores to stop selling ivory. It exposed how traders were using paperwork of the legal trade to launder freshly poached ivory into the system. Finally, almost all Hong Kong lawmakers were persuaded to support the Bill. Over the course of a five-year campaign, WildAid Hong Kong also organised local volunteers and schoolchildren to push for the closure of Hong Kong’s ivory markets.

Protecting elephants and closing ivory markets is a growing trend, but there are many laggard countries. The US has adopted a near-total ivory ban, and the UK government has proposed the closure of its ivory markets. An analysis of the CITES Trade Database for 2006–2015 reveals the EU to be the single-largest exporter of legal ivory items by number of reported transactions.

Poaching has driven huge declines in the number of elephants in the wild, with a 62 percent fall in numbers over the past decade. Up to 30,000 African elephants a year are still being slaughtered because of the demand for ivory, according to Avaaz. Experts say that if this continues, they could go extinct in the wild within our lifetime.

Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said: “The news that Hong Kong will ban the sale of ivory is a breakthrough moment in the battle to save elephants from extinction. This is a huge tribute to the leadership of law-makers and a fantastic effort by civil society groups to push for action on this issue. The fate of elephants still hangs in the balance. We now need to see all other countries close loopholes that still allow the illegal trade of ivory to continue. Governments, civil society, private sector and consumers all have a critical role to play if we are to secure a future with these magnificent creatures.”

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