Hong Kong boasts more ivory items than any other city

Posted on July, 16 2015

Study finds over 30,000 items for sale as WWF calls for Hong Kong to phase out legal ivory market

Hong Kong’s ivory trade is creating a significant loophole in international efforts to end the killing of elephants in Africa, according to a new survey published today by Save the Elephants.

Hong Kong now has more pieces of ivory on sale than anywhere else in the world. And prices have more than doubled in four years, partly driven by record numbers of mainland Chinese coming to the territory.

Exporting ivory bought in Hong Kong to mainland China is illegal, yet vendors reported that 90 per cent of their customers were mainland Chinese. In the early 1980s, when Hong Kong’s ivory market was last booming, the main buyers were Americans, followed by Europeans and Japanese.

Ivory trade experts Esmond and Chryssee Martin and Lucy Vigne surveyed Hong Kong’s retail outlets in late 2014 – early 2015 and found 30,856 pieces of ivory for sale. Prices for smaller items such as pendants had increased by six times since 2010-11, with bigger jewellery like bangles more than doubling.

“No other city surveyed has so many pieces of ivory on sale as Hong Kong. With higher taxes on the mainland, Hong Kong has become a cheaper place to buy ivory. With 40 million people crossing the border between the territories every year and controls lax, there’s little chance of their getting caught,” said report co-author Esmond Martin.

Hong Kong is also one of the world’s biggest ivory smuggling hubs, with over 8 tonnes seized by customs officials in 2013.

Hong Kong has not officially imported any ivory since 1990, and all outflows from this stock are recorded. From 1990 to 2000 all private ivory stocks recorded with the government nearly halved from 474 tonnes to 261 tonnes as traders sold their items. By 2008 these stocks had fallen to 232 tonnes. But since 2010 government figures show a decrease in ivory stocks of only a tonne a year despite the number of visitors from mainland China – most of whom are seeking luxury goods – having more than doubled.

“The numbers of elephants continue to decline at an alarming rate in Africa. It is time for Hong Kong to urgently agree a firm plan and timeline to phase out the sale of ivory. In addition, adequate resources are needed for inspection and enforcement efforts,” said Cheryl Lo, Senior Wildlife Crime Officer of WWF-Hong Kong.

Officials of Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) claim the small reduction in quantity of registered ivory stocks in recent years may be because the local demand in ivory is small.

In January 2015 AFCD had eight full-time inspectors focused on inspecting local shops for elephant ivory. The most recent inspection by AFCD in 2014 did not show any illegal trade, yet the authors survey in 2015 revealed that many outlets selling ivory items do not display the compulsory license and if they do, they are sometimes out of date.

In May of this year the Chinese government pledged to end the ivory trade within its borders. Without strong action, Hong Kong’s ivory trade will continue to undermine international efforts and be a loophole through which Africa’s elephants are disappearing.

Hong Kong's ivory: More items for sale than anywhere else in the world
© Save the Elephants

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African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana)
African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana)
© Martin Harvey / WWF