HONG KONG (23 October 2015) —Hong Kong’s “legal” ivory market is willfully obstructing newly announced efforts by China and the United States to end ivory sales, at a time when thousands of African elephants are dying at the hands of poachers, according to a new report released by WildAid and African Wildlife Foundation with accompanying undercover footage provided to the organizations.
While China and the US have recently pledged landmark commitments to halt the ivory trade, the Hong Kong government has resisted such a move. Officials from Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) continue to insist “the Hong Kong government has strict control mechanism in place over sale of ivory” and is comparable to other nations. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Over several months, investigators uncovered overwhelming evidence of ivory traders flouting licensing regulations with impunity, coaching tourists on how to smuggle purchased ivory, and routinely replenishing legally held ivory stocks with illegal ivory laundered into Hong Kong from recently poached African elephants. Click here to download the full report.
WildAid and African Wildlife Foundation call on the Hong Kong government to ban ivory sales, and to conduct an independent inquiry to address longstanding regulatory loopholes and illegal smuggling.
With the United States and China making public commitments to halt the ivory trade, pressure is mounting fast for Hong Kong to do the same.
Due to its high overall trade volumes, easy access to mainland China, and lax regulation and supervision, Hong Kong is a global hub for the ivory trade. Licensed vendors can legally sell ivory obtained prior to the 1989 international ban on the commercial ivory trade. But the "legal" market is replenshing its original stock with ivory from recently poached elephants.
Two hard-hitting reports out Wednesday uncover this illicit trade that is fuelling the elephant poaching epidemic in Africa. The Washington Post reports that while American and Chinese pledges to enact near-complete bans is historic, the "spotlight is turning to Hong Kong."
In a historic address to the Chinese people, the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) has urged China "to turn the tide of extinction" and reject the illegal wildlife trade that's driving the slaughter of endangered species.
"I am absolutely convinced that China can become a global leader in the protection of wildlife," Prince William said Monday in remarks to be broadcast on Chinese state TV channel CCTV1. "Your influence in the world means you can change the face of conservation in this century. This will be a contribution that would go down in history, one that your great grandchildren would speak of with great pride."
The address coincides with this week's official state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will be a guest of Buckingham Palace for four days. "[W]e have seen a groundswell of action by governments to improve their laws and to work across borders to fight the traffickers," Prince William said. "Only last month, President Xi announced that China would take steps to halt the domestic trade in ivory, adding to the ban on ivory carving imports he announced in February. But we know the illegal wildlife trade cannot be solved by governments alone. The spotlight falls back on all of us, and on the choices we have to make to play our parts in addressing this problem."
Poachers in Zimbabwe have killed at least 40 elephants in recent weeks using a particularly cruel and efficient method: cyanide poisoning.
The Washington Post reports that poachers have used industrial-grade cyanide to poison watering holes and salt licks favored by elephants in Hwange National Park, a Connecticut-sized reserve located on the border with Botswana. Cyancide-laced oranges have also been used, and species not targeted by poachers were among the victims.
Park rangers found the carcasses of 26 elephants on Tuesday, a week after 14 other animals were found poisoned. No arrests have been made in the case.
“Any person with wildlife at heart would be worried about the method with which these poachers are killing wildlife,” Caroline Washaya-Moyo, a spokeswoman for Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, said in an interview with the Post.
An alleged ivory magnate has been arrested and charged with smuggling tusks worth nearly $2.5 million in Tanzania, where rampant poaching in recent years has devastated the nation’s elephant population.
Yang Feng Glan, a 66-year-old Chinese national reportedly known as the “Ivory Queen,” is accused of being a crucial link between poaching syndicates in East Africa and buyers in China and other nations. News of her Wednesday arrest was first reported by Elephant Action League.
"Tanzania has had the most serious elephant poaching of any country in recent years with few prosecutions, so this is an important case," said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. "But as well as arresting the smugglers, corrupt officials who enable this trade need to be prosecuted."