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Op-ed: Hong Kong’s Ivory Traders Don’t Deserve Compensation

This op-ed appeared in the March 24, 2016 edition of the South China Morning Post 

Twenty-six years ago, the world called time on the international trade in elephant ivory, after it had halved African elephant populations within 15 years. Now governments in the US, China and Hong Kong are finally closing the remaining loophole that allowed domestic trade to continue and facilitated a second ivory crisis that has recently been claiming 33,000 elephants a year.

Hopefully, Japan, Thailand and other significant markets will soon follow suit and the elephants can recover. The positive news is that ivory prices have more than halved in China over the past 18 months, that drop apparently starting before the domestic trade bans were announced. Ivory traders at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s jewellery fair this month offered us ivory for US$380 a kilogramme, down to 20 per cent of what it was.

In January, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced in his annual policy address a plan to phase out the local ivory trade. Amazingly, some traders in Hong Kong are calling for compensation for not being able to continue to sell ivory. This would be totally wrong, if not immoral, given the pivotal role of these traders in stockpiling and bending the rules to create the ivory crisis in the first place. It would be like compensating people for knowingly selling stolen goods, because the law had caught up with them.

Instead of rewarding those who invested and speculated in extinction and whose abuse of regulations halved elephant populations, surely it is the families of the many rangers killed by poachers, or the child victims of civil wars financed by ivory – or the African nations that have lost millions in tourism revenue and spent millions fighting poaching – who should be compensated by the traders whose activities caused the problem? They won’t be, of course, and that’s why its morally offensive that the perpetrators of the elephant slaughter should even suggest that they be compensated.


Click here for the full op-ed via SCMP