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A new report by WWF reveals seven fundamental weaknesses in the regulation of Hong Kong's ivory market. This includes links to illegal activities such as the smuggling of ivory from poached elephants in Africa and the laundering illegal ivory with the city’s legal stock of ivory in Hong Kong. As a result, Hong Kong can be directly fuelling the poaching of elephants in Africa. Hence WWF is calling the government for a ban of ivory sales and processing.
While Hong Kong is the city with the largest retail ivory market in the world, local 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 – such imports were made illegal in 1990.
Entitled “The Hard Truth”, the report is a detailed study of the effectiveness of the existing regulatory system, supplemented by information provided by individuals who are concerned about illegal wildlife trade. Among the evidences are the investigation and conversations with some ivory traders, who claimed to have access to at least 15 to 20 tonnes of ivory between them ( the investigation process was neither arranged by WWF nor were any members of WWF involved). This is with a significant proportion of the 111.3 tonnes of legal ivory stockpile held by all businesses in Hong Kong. Those traders pointed to a number of irregularities and systemic flaws in the Hong Kong ivory trade, which are identified in the report:
Firstly, illegal ivory is accessible in Hong Kong. A recorded conversation with an ivory trader revealed that a buyer in Hong Kong can make a “purchase order” for ivory directly smuggled from Africa, thus fuelling the ongoing poaching crisis.
Secondly, legal ivory is used as a front for the illegal ivory trade. Traders inform the government that they are selling very little ivory, yet Hong Kong has a visibly extensive ivory business. One ivory trader stated that “laundering” is easy, with traders using the stockpile of legal ivory as a front to sell smuggled, illegal ivory to unsuspecting buyers.
In addition, the report covers five other weaknesses, including loopholes exist in the licensing system that enables it to be exploited by unscrupulous businesses, and the rampant, re-export of ivory from Hong Kong without a permit – which is illegal – with many buyers smuggling their ivory purchases out of Hong Kong.
Cheryl Lo, Senior Wildlife Crime Officer of WWF-Hong Kong states, “The very real challenges in regulating ivory trafficking and trade in Hong Kong is taking its toll on elephant populations in Africa. It’s time to re-write the future of elephants by banning ivory sales and processing in Hong Kong.”
Gavin Edwards, Conservation Director of WWF-Hong Kong states, “Every year, at least 30,000 elephants are killed in Africa, primarily for their tusks to satisfy the demand for ivory products in Asia. China recently committed to work towards halting ivory sales, and the US is banning most interstate commerce in African ivory. It is time for Hong Kong to step up, as part of the global effort to tackle the ongoing elephant poaching crisis in Africa.”
Recent figures show that the population of African elephants has fallen from between three and five million in the early 1900s to around 470,000 today.
Given that Hong Kong is one of ivory’s primary destinations for ivory and one of its major trading hubs, the city must strengthen its efforts. WWF is calling on the Hong Kong government to ban the ivory market by rapidly phasing out the sales and processing of ivory. Only with immediate and robust action we can end the illegal ivory trade in the city and help conserve threatened elephant populations.
WWF calls on the public to make a pledge on our website (wwf.org.hk/elephants/en), starting from 8 September, to show support for ending the local ivory trade and helping create a sustainable future for the world’s precious elephants.
* The report contains disturbing content