In 2014, WildAid published research indicating a significant decline in the shark fin trade: Vendors in China reported a 50 to 70 percent drop in sales over the past two years, with prices dropping by half. About 85 percent of consumers surveyed in China said they had stopped eating shark fin soup, and nearly two-thirds of those cited public awareness campaigns such as those featuring WildAid ambassador Yao Ming as a primary reason for doing so.
New research released this week from Hong Kong reports a similar trend. According to a study co-authored by the marine conservation group BLOOM and the Social Sciences Research Centre of The University of Hong Kong, nearly 70 percent of Hong Kong residents polled said they had cut back on shark fin soup — or they had stopped eating it altogether, in what was formerly the epicenter of shark fin consumption.
Perhaps even more encouraging, over 90 percent of residents said they believed the Hong Kong government should ban the sale of wildlife products that involve killing endangered animals, echoing WildAid’s findings that 95% of mainland Chinese surveyed supported bans on ivory sales.
To fight the illegal ivory trade that’s fueling an elephant poaching epidemic in Africa, WildAid has joined a coalition of 45 international elephant conservation and animal welfare groups in calling on the Hong Kong Government to stop issuing any new import licenses and re-export licenses for pre-Convention elephant ivory.
What does this mean, and how might this action help save Africa’s elephants?
“Pre-Convention” ivory refers to ivory that was in circulation prior to the 1975 establishment of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
The European Union is the primary exporter of alleged pre-Convention ivory, much of it imported by Hong Kong with the ultimate destination being mainland China ivory carving factories.
But Hong Kong's ivory traders are routinely exploiting legal loopholes in the Hong Kong law which is enabling them to legally import raw and cut elephant tusks from Europe and then launder recently poached ivory taken from illegally-killed elephants into the legal market using government supplied paperwork
With its status symbol allure and alleged medicinal properties, rhino horn is a luxury item in Vietnam, a primary market for horn that’s driving the slaughter of rhinos in Africa.
That’s why in 2014, WildAid and our conservation partners launched “Stop Using Rhino Horn," a three-year campaign with support and cooperation from the government as well as business leaders and media partners, who have contributed $1.6 million in donated media that has reached millions of consumers.
On Friday, WildAid’s Vietnam team welcomed actor Maggie Q, star of the hit CBS TV series "Stalker," and Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy Claire A. Pierangelo to a launch event in Hanoi for the second year of Stop Using Rhino Horn, which now boasts over 40 Vietnamese celebrities spreading this important message.
On Tuesday, American Airlines announced via Twitter that it no longer accepts commercial shipments of shark fin for transport — this after wildlife groups discovered the airline had shipped shark fins from Costa Rica to Asia in December.
An investigation by conservation groups Turtle Island Restoration Network and PRETOMA found that hammerhead sharks had been flown from Costa Rica to Hong Kong via stopovers in the U.S. In a statement, Turtle Island said they presented American with evidence of the fin transport and worked with the carrier on the policy shift.
In response to Twitter inquiries including one by WildAid Hong Kong campaign manager Alex Hofford, American announced publicly for the first time that it had stopped accepting shark fin shipments last month. The official end date was originally reported by the company as March 30, and later revised to March 4 in a follow-up tweet.
As author and Nat Geo contributor Laurel Neme writes this week, even sensemaking legislation aimed at saving imperiled wildlife by restricting the elephant ivory and rhino horn trade in the United States can fall victim to political reality.
Following successful efforts last year to effectively ban ivory and rhino horn commercial sales in New York and New Jersey — as well as new federal rules tightening the ivory trade — lawmakers across the country have proposed similar legislation for their respective states. Some bills are moving through the legislative process; others have been diluted or effectively killed, in part by well-funded opposition from the gun lobby.
States such as California are seeking to close loopholes to existing ivory laws that have made it impossible to effectively enforce what’s already on the books.
Under current California law, ivory imported into the state prior to 1977 can be sold legally. But criminals have long exploited the legal market to launder illegal ivory from poached elephants. According to a January report by the National Resources Defense Council, as much as 90% of ivory found in Los Angeles and San Francisco markets was illegal.