Today Hong Kong Legislative Councilors voted to ban ivory sales in the former epicentre of the global ivory trade. Lawmakers passed the Endangered Species of Animals and Plants (Amendment) Bill 2017, otherwise known as the Hong Kong Ivory Ban Bill. The vote comes just one month after China shut down all commercial processing and sales of ivory at the end of 2017.
In a landslide victory 49 lawmakers voted for the bill, 4 voted against with zero abstentions. The local trade will be gradually phased out over the next three and a half years, and pre-convention ivory imports and re-exports will be banned from August this year.
Since China’s ban was announced by President Xi Jinping in September 2015, ivory prices in Hong Kong have dropped precipitously. From a high of US$2,100 (HK$16,400) per kilo in 2014, the price has now dropped to US$766 (HK$6,000) per kilo of pre-convention ivory with paperwork, or US$383 (HK$3,000) per kilo for black market smuggled ivory from recently-killed elephants.
“Today is a great day for elephants. Hong Kong has always been the ‘heart of darkness’ of the ivory trade with a 670 tonne stockpile when international trade was banned in 1989,” said WildAid Hong Kong Campaigner Alex Hofford.
“With great support from the Hong Kong people, our five-year campaign has finally paid off. It started with the destruction of the seized ivory stockpile. Then we persuaded Hong Kong’s four large department stores to stop selling ivory. We exposed how traders were using paperwork of the legal trade to launder freshly poached ivory into the system. Finally, almost all Hong Kong lawmakers have been persuaded to support a bill that will secure great protection for African elephants,” Hofford said.
WildAid in Hong Kong has been at the core of efforts to shut down the Hong Kong ivory trade since 2013. Dedicated volunteers as well as scores of activist children from local and international schools across the city have been at the forefront media-driven campaign to consign ivory trade to the history books. Making their voices heard outside Hong Kong’s Legislative Council today were over a hundred high school and primary school students from the Li Po Chun United World College and ESF Clearwater Bay School.
Hong Kong lawmaker Hon. Elizabeth Quat has also been at the forefront of efforts to curb the city’s out-of-control ivory trade. “Today’s Legislative Council vote marks a great day for elephants. I applaud the Hong Kong government, my fellow Legislative Councilors and the general public for supporting this bill to ban the cruel and unsustainable ivory trade. It’s now up to our law enforcement agencies to ensure the ban is properly implemented. I call on all governments in Asia to follow China and Hong Kong’s lead by enacting their own domestic ivory ban legislation now,” Quat said.
Japan is now the largest open market for ivory with a nominal system of regulation. Thailand has severely restricted trade and is considering a ban. While the rate of illegal killing of African elephants still remains alarmingly high, as prices fall and laundering opportunities are eliminated and ivory is no longer openly on sale it is widely expected that poaching will decline. Poaching in Kenya is down from 390 elephants killed in 2013 to only 46 last year, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service, and by 55% in Tanzania in 2016 compared to 2015.
The bill also increases Hong Kong’s maximum penalties for wildlife crime after a three-month enactment period, ie in late April or early May 2018. Hong Kong’s historically low penalty regime has made it a funnel to mainland China for illegal wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horn and pangolin scales. Three months after the ivory ban bill is enacted, ie in late June or early July 2018, pre-convention ivory imports and re-exports into and out of Hong Kong will be prohibited. Shutting down this loophole is key to protecting Africa’s last remaining elephant populations.
The European Commission banned the re-export of raw ivory in July 2017 but it must also quickly ban the re-export of worked pre-convention ivory exports, a major loophole that allows unscrupulous ivory traders in Europe to send illegal ivory to Asia masquerading as pre-Convention ivory.
Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme said, “The news that Hong Kong will ban the sale of ivory is a breakthrough moment in the battle to save elephants from extinction. This is a huge tribute to the leadership of law-makers and a fantastic effort by civil society groups to push for action on this issue. The fate of elephants still hangs in the balance. We now need to see all other countries close loopholes that still allow the illegal trade of ivory to continue. Governments, civil society, private sector and consumers all have a critical role to play if we are to secure a future with these magnificent creatures.”
WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and global network of media partners, WildAid leverages nearly $230 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.
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