More than 30,000 elephants are being poached each year since the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was agreed to in 1989 by member states to ban the international ivory trade.
The large mammals are hunted for their tusks because of their high value on the black markets.
When the ban was initiated in 1989, private traders in Hong Kong then had a stockpile of 665 tonnes that were registered and licensed with the local authorities. As of today, an estimated 77 tonnes of ivory are still held by them, even though the “licensed” stocks should have been depleted a long time ago.
Then in March this year, a news photo showed mainland police guarding a haul of tusks seized from a vessel from the SAR.
It can’t be any clearer in the contrasting figures and photo that Hong Kong’s ivory trade has been used to provide cover for ivory smugglers, with the unscrupulous traders laundering illegal tusks by replenishing their licensed inventories with illegal ones obtained from recently killed elephants.
Environment minister Wong Kam- sing said yesterday legislation will be proposed after the New Year to outlaw the ivory trade completely, so that by the end of 2021, it will be unlawful for anyone to possess ivory for commercial purposes.
This is most welcome – a step long overdue.
According to Wong, there will be three stages. Immediately, elephant hunting trophies will be banned as soon as the law is passed. It will be followed three months later by a ban on import and export of pre-convention ivory, which refers to those already in existence in 1989. At the final stage, commercial possession of ivory will be prohibited.
The move is more than necessary if Hong Kong is to remain a respected member of the international community. It’s a concrete message that we’re serious at stamping out the illicit trade.
It’s no secret that the SAR – due to being next door to the mainland – has been a key ivory retail market, as well as an important corridor for ivory bound for the mainland. The proposed move will help close loopholes that traffickers have been exploiting tirelessly.
Some local traders say five years will be too short to dispose of their stocks. Their claims are just too incredulous, as they already had 27 years since 1989 to clear any outstanding inventories.
If ivory had been used for artifact crafting or medicinal purposes in the past, it’s now the trade of greed.
Between 2009 and 2014, Tanzania saw its elephant population plummet 60 percent from 109,051 to 43,330. Worse still, the number is still declining due to poaching.
The arrest of the “Ivory Queen” – Yang Fengian, a businesswoman from Beijing – by Tanzania this year may have helped break an international ring trafficking in elephant tusks. But it needs broader efforts to stamp out the illegal trade in ivory, if the animals are to be saved from total extinction on this planet. Hong Kong traders have been given 27 years to empty their stocks. There are absolutely no grounds for them to complain any further.