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.
WildAid and the #JoinTheHerd campaign are honored to be among 32 environmental and conservation organizations who have appealed to Yahoo! Japan, the world’s largest internet ivory seller, and its major shareholder SoftBank, to halt all elephant ivory sales on Yahoo! Japan’s shopping and auction sites. An open letter addressed to SoftBank and Yahoo! Japan executives, Masayoshi Son and Nikesh Arora, urges the companies to act now to protect elephants.
This month, WildAid rolls out its first ever large scale public awareness campaign in Hong Kong on a fleet of about 80 double decker buses. The faces of Chinese celebrities Yao Ming, Li Bingbing, Lang Lang as well as Thai actor Tony Jaa can currently be seen carrying the ‘Ivory Free’ message to the Hong Kong public. The Kowloon Motor Bus Company buses also urge support for an ivory ban proposed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
From Ellen DeGeneres to Lupita Nyong'o and Lang Lang, we are blown away by the global support for the #JoinTheHerd campaign to make this the Year of the Elephant, when we put an end to the ivory trade and allow elephant populations to recover.
The multi billion-dollar ivory trade is controlled by a small number of kingpins who are moving tusks through the Kenyan port of Mombasa, according to an expert panel at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
In a June paper published in the journal Science, University of Washington conservation biologist Samuel Wasser and his colleagues compared DNA samples from African elephant populations with samples extracted from elephant tusks seized between 1996 and 2014. From this genetic analysis, they found two primary poaching hotspots in the continent: one East Africa (particularly Tanzania) and another in protected areas spanning parts of Cameroon, Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
Since the study was published, Wasser analyzed another sample of seized tusks found to be freshly poached, moving rapidly from poaching sites to seaports where they are smuggled.
“Not only have we showed that the number of kingpins are fairly limited, because the hotspots are very few, but also we’re showing that there are probably one or two major dealers that are moving all of this ivory out of Mombasa,” Wasser said during the panel.
Since our Thursday launch of the #JointheHerd campaign at YearoftheElephant.org, we've received dozens of emails asking who took the iconic photo of a bull elephant now seen in tens of thousands of #JoinTheHerd photos online.
The photographer is Australian-born Shannon Benson, who gives us the backstory:
I was in an area called the Klaserie, which is part of the greater Kruger region of South Africa. It was an early morning drive, and as the sun was rising and we were considering heading back to camp, this majestic beauty appeared as if from nowhere. He confidently swayed his way toward the vehicle.
It was the largest bull elephant I had seen to date, and I was filled with awe, excitement and admittedly intimidation. This shot was captured just before I couldn't zoom back any further while trying to keep him within frame. After that I simply took some close up shots as he passed right by the Land Cruiser and continued on his way. After that I finally took a breath again!
Actors, musicians, authors and athletes "joining the herd" Thursday on social media represent five continents and include Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, Yao Ming (former NBA star), Yoko Ono, Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries) & Nikki Reed (The Twilight Saga), Alikiba (Tanzanian music artist), Lang Lang (virtuoso pianist), Maggie Q (Nikita and Scandal), Sir Trevor McDonald (British news presenter), Bo Derek (actress and longtime WildAid ambassador), Kristin Bauer (actress, HBO’s True Blood), Laurie David (American environmental activist), Tony Jaa (Furious 7), Amy Tan (author, The Joy Luck Club), and Li Bingbing (China’s most famous actress).
Launched internationally in both English and Mandarin, the campaign encourages anyone who cares about elephants to #JoinTheHerd by changing their social media profile photo at YearoftheElephant.org or even learn to say the greeting in Chinese. To coincide with the upcoming Chinese New Year, visitors to the website are encouraged to join a cast of celebrities in wishing their social media friends and followers a “Happy Year of the Elephant” — a new twist on welcoming the Chinese Zodiac’s Year of the Monkey on February 8.
HONG KONG (13 January 2016) —In his Annual Policy Address, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced that the government will legislate a ban on local elephant ivory sales, joining mainland China and the United States in a global effort to end Africa’s elephant poaching crisis that has claimed up to 33,000 elephants a year.
Responding to several hidden camera investigations into the city's ivory trade released last fall, Hong Kong environment officials had previously said they are “open-minded” to the possibility of ending legal ivory sales reversing their previous position that the trade was “strictly regulated.”
Leung also announced that maximum penalties for endangered species trafficking would be sharply increased to seven years imprisonment, compared with the current two years under Hong Kong's Endangered Species Ordinance.
“History has shown that legal ivory sales only serve to provide a cover for illegal trade, which fuels the rampant poaching we see across Africa. Hong Kong has always been the epicenter of that trade, so we congratulate CY Leung and the government for this historic step. Coupled with a 50% drop in ivory prices in China over the last 18 months, the end of the crisis may be in sight,” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights.
Last week, the status quo in Hong Kong was disrupted.
On Thursday, December 3, lawmakers gathered from across the political spectrum in Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) to unanimously pass a motion calling on the Hong Kong government to strengthen the fight against wildlife crime and to legislate for a commercial ban on ivory trading. Although non-binding, the historic motion was passed by 37 out of 38 legislators present, with no 'No' votes or abstentions. It marked a rare display of unity in Hong Kong's polarized, post-Occupy/Umbrella movement political landscape.
Over the past few weeks, global public opinion has shifted rapidly towards the realization that ivory bans are desperately needed if the world's last remaining elephants are to be saved from extinction. The lawmakers' vote comes just a matter of weeks after the high-level announcement made at The White House by Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama to "take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory." Most recently, Pope Francis also condemned ivory trafficking during his visit to Kenya.
So what does this milestone actually mean for Hong Kong? Unfortunately, the motion debate was not a bill, and as mentioned, it also was non-binding. What it does do is back the Hong Kong government into a corner by making it extremely difficult for the government to further delay; Hong Kong's Chief Executive CY Leung and officials at the government's Environment Bureau must act now.
Elephant ivory is plummeting in value throughout China, according to new data released Monday by Save the Elephants. Despite soaring prices for illegal ivory from 2010 to 2014, researchers Esmond Martin and Lucy Vigne report that raw ivory prices in China have fallen by half over the past 18 months — from $2,100 (USD) per kilogram to $1,100.
In their survey of eight Chinese cities, the researchers observed that consumer demand for ivory is in apparent free-fall. China’s ivory carving factories reported a severe shortage in tusks, and government-issued IDs required to legally sell ivory had been delayed. Save the Elephants will publish Martin and Vigne’s full findings next month.
The new data coincides with broader awareness and changing attitudes in China, where public knowledge of Africa’s elephant-poaching crisis doubled from 2012 to 2014, according to a March report by WildAid, Save the Elephants and African Wildlife Foundation. At the same time, the Chinese government has made progressive steps to control the illegal ivory market, culminating in President Xi Jinping’s September announcement that China and the United States would work together to halt the ivory trade.