Hong Kong ivory traders exploit flaws to import tusks illegally from Africa, says wildlife group


Danny Lee and Elizabeth Cheung, South China Morning Post

Date Published

Wildlife group says city’s weak licensing system allows dealers to top up their stocks from Africa

Ivory traders are profiting from a thriving trade in illegal elephant tusks by exploiting loopholes in Hong Kong’s licensing system for legal transactions, WWF-Hong Kong said.
A study by the environmental group found traders were exploiting “fundamental flaws” in the regime and it identified “widespread illegality”.
It released a video of undercover wildlife activists who targeted three retailers in the city’s ivory trade and who admitted on camera that they knew how to manipulate the system. The WWF said it would hand the footage to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
One trader said the lax registration of ivory meant only the weight of each item was recorded and that if he sold one piece, “I can simply exchange it with anything … I can use illegal ivory to make another item to top up my stock again,” as long as it is the same weight.
In response to the revelations the government said last night that it would review every licence and audit each piece of ivory.
International trade in ivory has been outlawed since 1989, but licensed selling of ivory imported before the ban and from stockpiles of African governments is legal.
Official studies have shown Hong Kong has over 30,000 pieces on sale – the most in the world – as experts warn the city is fuelling a thriving market.
Another trader boasted that he could smuggle and illegally traffick tusks anytime, and even asked the undercover activist how they would like to receive the delivery.
Gavin Edwards, WWF-Hong Kong’s conservation director, said: “These are examples of a larger system that has problems. So this shouldn’t be just about three traders. If we can get investigators getting three traders on tape doing this, how many more are doing this?”
An employee at Tai Wai Native Products in Sheung Wan, who declined to give his name, was hostile when approached by the Post. “How did you know we sold ivory?” he said. The company sells Chinese medicine according to online information.
As to the smuggling and illegal practices outlined by WWF, the employee said he had “never heard of it”.
“The [conservation department] has enforced the rules adequately … we can do whatever business as long as it is legal,” the man said. “The WWF can make any allegation they want.”
A department spokeswoman said that in view of the “growing concerns” over global ivory smuggling and control of the local trade, “enhancement measures recently implemented or in the pipeline include a comprehensive stock check of all licensed ivory-keeping premises, and special operations to check licensed ivory shops as well as art and craft shops”.
Wildlife campaigner Alex Hofford from WildAid said: “The damning footage and ivory trade report released by WWF today show to the world what has long been suspected – that Hong Kong ivory traders operate with complete impunity from the law.”
Meanwhile, customs officers said they found 51kg of suspected ivory pieces, worth about HK$510,000, in two airmail parcels from Zimbabwe seized at Hong Kong International Airport. A 24kg package from the country was intercepted on September 2.