Fundamental flaws in regulation of Hong Kong ivory market
Since Hong Kong's flawed ivory market is helping to fuel elephant poaching, WWF is calling on the authorities to ban both the processing and sale of ivory.
“The very real challenges in regulating ivory trafficking and trade in Hong Kong are taking their toll on elephant populations in Africa," said Cheryl Lo, Senior Wildlife Crime Officer of WWF-Hong Kong. "It’s time to re-write the future of elephants by banning ivory sales and processing in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong is the city with the largest retail ivory market in the world: another recent study found over 30,000 objects for sale. Local ivory traders claim that the sale of these items is legal since they are all drawn from a stockpile of ivory imported before 1990 – when such imports were made illegal. However, the new report tells a different story.
Entitled “The Hard Truth”, the report is a detailed study of the existing regulatory system, supplemented by information provided by individuals who are concerned about illegal wildlife trade.
Among the evidence referenced in the report are undercover investigations and conversations (neither arranged by nor involving WWF staff) with some ivory traders, who claimed to have access to at least 15 to 20 tonnes of ivory between them - a significant proportion of the 111.3 tonnes of legal ivory held by all businesses in Hong Kong.
Those traders pointed to a number of irregularities and systemic flaws in the Hong Kong ivory trade, which are raised in the report.
Firstly, illegal ivory is accessible in Hong Kong. A recorded conversation with an ivory trader revealed that a buyer in Hong Kong can make a “purchase order” for ivory directly smuggled from Africa, thus fuelling the ongoing poaching crisis.
Secondly, legal ivory is used as a front for the illegal ivory trade. Traders inform the government that they are selling very little ivory, yet Hong Kong has a visibly extensive ivory business. One ivory trader stated that “laundering” is easy, with traders using the stockpile of legal ivory as a front to sell smuggled, illegal ivory to unsuspecting buyers.
In addition, the report covers five other weaknesses, including loopholes in the licensing system that enables it to be exploited by unscrupulous businesses, and the rampant, export of ivory from Hong Kong without a permit – which is illegal – with many buyers smuggling their ivory purchases out of the city.
“Every year, at least 30,000 elephants are killed in Africa, mainly for their tusks to satisfy the demand for ivory products, primarily in Asia," said Gavin Edwards, Conservation Director of WWF-Hong Kong. "China recently committed to work towards halting ivory sales, and the US is banning most interstate commerce in African ivory. It is time for Hong Kong to step up, as part of the global effort to tackle the ongoing elephant poaching crisis in Africa.”
Recent figures show that the population of African elephants has fallen from between three and five million in the early 1900s to around 470,000 today.
Given that Hong Kong is one of ivory’s primary destinations for ivory and one of its major trading hubs, the city must strengthen its efforts. WWF is calling on the Hong Kong government to ban the ivory market by rapidly phasing out the sale and processing of ivory.
"Only with immediate and robust action we can end the illegal ivory trade in the city and help conserve threatened elephant populations," added Edwards.
To boost its call, WWF is urging the public to join the campaign for an end to the local ivory trade by pledging support on the WWF-Hong Kong website from the 8th of September.