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." The Post's Simon Denyer writes:
There, the authorities’ reluctance to clamp down on legal ivory traders has allowed a much larger illegal trade to flourish, conservationists say, and has established the territory as a key transit point in the smuggling of ivory from Africa into China.
“Hong Kong has always been the ivory laundry of the world,” said Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid in San Francisco. “The moral imperative has shifted from China and the U.S, who are in a position to say they are going to close the ivory trade down, to Hong Kong to do the same.”
The vendors complicit in illegal trade openly admit to replenishing legal ivory stock with illegal ivory from Africa, as seen on undercover footage provided to WildAid and WWF-Hong Kong, and aired on CNN Wednesday. See the segment below, featuring WildAid Hong Kong campaign chief Alex Hofford and Hong Kong legislator Elizabeth Quat, a key voice opposing the "legal" trade.
The good news is that the Hong Kong public is firmly behind a sales ban: In a recent poll by WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and Save the Elephants, 75% of the Hong Kong public interviewed supported a ban on ivory sales.
Earlier this week, Prince William urged China in a televised address "to turn the tide of extinction" and reject the illegal wildlife trade that's driving the slaughter of endangered species — a commitment that Hong Kong also must make if the war against wildlife trafficking is to be won.
"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."