Isiolo, Kenya (September 9, 2014) – Hong Kong lawmaker Dr. Hon Elizabeth Quat JP has come to Kenya to help build bridges between China and Africa as part of her campaign to stop the buying of ivory and end the killing of elephants. The trip was organized in partnership with WildAid, Save the Elephants, the African Wildlife Foundation, the Northern Rangelands Trust and Stop Ivory.
Africa is in the midst of an escalating poaching crisis. A recent study by Save the Elephants found that around 100,000 elephants were killed for their tusks between 2010 and 2012 driven by demand from the newly affluent consumers in China and Southeast Asia.
While ivory stocks are still sold legally in Hong Kong, the government has taken steps to combat the illegal trade, pledging to destroy its 29.6 tonnes of confiscated illegal ivory by the middle of next year.
Dr. Quat wants her government to do more. As a member of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Dr. Quat is urging Hong Kong to ban ivory sales and join the African led Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), the aim of which is to close down the world’s remaining ivory markets, enact a 10+ year moratorium on the international trade in ivory, and conduct more education and awareness raising initiatives.
“Hong Kong would be the first consumer nation to ban ivory sales and join the EPI,” explained Dr. Quat. “We’d be taking a strong stand with our brothers and sisters in Africa and setting an example for the rest of the world.”
“With 100,000 elephants killed in three years, the situation with Africa’s elephants is grave indeed. We’ve recorded slaughters before but the current wave of poaching is now being driven by a record demand for ivory at a time when elephant numbers are fewer than ever before. The decline of Africa’s elephants will be inexorable until ivory ceases to be a commodity,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants.
HONG KONG’S LEGAL MARKET DRIVES AN ILLEGAL TRADE
Between 1970 and 1989, African elephant populations were halved as legal “regulated” trade in ivory enabled laundering of illegal ivory from poached elephants. In response, parties to the Convention of the International Trade of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) passed a ban on international trade in ivory in 1989. Ivory prices plummeted to a quarter of previous levels overnight and poaching decreased, allowing elephant populations to begin to recover.
However, “one-off” legal sales of African ivory stockpiles to China and Japan in 2008, sparked a runaway illegal trade. With the rapid expansion of the Chinese economy, demand for ivory began to surge from 2008 onwards, driving illegal killing of elephants in Africa.
Corruption, poor enforcement of regulations and a lack of prosecutions in Africa have assisted the illegal ivory trade. In addition, groups such as the Janjaweed, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Al Shabaab are alleged to be involved in the trade as a source of financing.
Hong Kong was the historical center of ivory carving and trading industry with 665 tonnes held in stock at the time of the 1989 ban, much of it obtained from dubious sources laundered through legal trade loopholes.
This stock was projected to have been exhausted by 2005 according to government statistics compiled by WildLifeRisk. Yet the trade continues, with more than 117.1 tonnes of ivory still “legally” held by trade at the end of 2013. Data from Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, at the end of 2013, shows that there were 447 registered ivory possession license holders in the city, all of whom remain anonymous due to Hong Kong’s privacy laws.
“Traders have had 25 years to sell their stockpiles in Hong Kong, which were obtained at the expense of halving Africa’s elephants. Instead they have held them back to drive up the price. People should not be rewarded for speculating on extinction. Historically these ‘legal’ stocks were used as cover to sell and launder fresh poached ivory, it seems likely those practices have continued and now it’s time to close the loopholes and give the public a clear message ‘say no to ivory’” said Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid.
SEEKING ALLIES AND RAISING AWARENESS
Dr. Quat hopes her trip to Kenya will raise awareness and help build momentum for further action in Hong Kong. “Hong Kong could shut down its ivory market tomorrow, the government just lacks the political will to do so,” explained Dr. Quat. “Coming to Africa and witnessing the realities of elephant poaching first hand has helped me understand the true implications of buying ivory. I hope I can share this awareness with the people of Hong Kong and help end the killing.”
“There is perhaps no better way to understand how extraordinary Africa’s elephants are than to see them in the wild,” says African Wildlife Foundation CEO, Dr. Patrick Bergin. “And by seeing them in the wild, we hope Dr. Quat will become even more determined to advocate on their behalf and to communicate back home that only elephants should be wearing or displaying ivory.”
Alex Rhodes, CEO, Stop Ivory, said “Hong Kong has made significant strides this year with the voluntary closing of its three biggest ivory retailers and through commencing the destruction of their confiscated stockpiles. But to save elephants we need the demand to stop. This is best done though a combination of a better-informed public and more stringent regulations that bring domestic laws in sync with the international ban implemented by CITES in 1989. Hong Kong Legislator, Dr. Quat, is doing ground-breaking work bringing awareness of the elephant crisis to Hong Kong and we are so pleased to contribute to this important visit with Save the Elephants and WildAid.”
So far on her trip, Dr. Quat has visited with Save The Elephants and toured their Samburu research camp. Because of poaching, one fifth of all elephant families studied no longer have a matriarch to lead them. Save The Elephants is studying to see how this disruption affects the ability of younger generations to survive without the ecological knowledge gained from their elders. She met with tribal elders of the Samburu village and discussed their cultural connection to Africa’s elephants and how their community has been affected by poaching. She was given a behind the scenes tour of the security and ranger operations at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Northern Rangelands Trust, which has one of the most effective enforcement networks in the conservation world.
Michael Watson, CEO of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy said, “Our wildlife rangers, employed from the local communities, are now operational in 27 community conservancies in northern Kenya. These rangers are community support staff, wildlife researchers and front line soldiers all rolled into one. They risk their lives everyday protecting the African elephant. But the hard work, dedication and bravery of these rangers will continue to be consumed in an uphill battle unless the countries consuming the ivory stop the demand. We are thrilled to have Dr. Quat visit northern Kenya, and hope this will inspire influential people in other consumer countries to have the courage to follow in her footsteps.”
Dr. Quat will continue to visit with other wildlife conservation NGOs and with the Kenya Wildlife Service throughout the remainder of her trip in order to build relationships and gain a better understanding of the current poaching crisis.
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About Hong Kong Legislative Councillor Dr. Hon Elizabeth Quat, JP
Dr. Hon Elizabeth Quat, JP, known as EQ by her peers, is a member of the DAB Central and Standing Committee, and the Chairman of the DAB Women Affairs Committee. She was elected as a Sha Tin East District Councilor in 2012. In 2007, Dr. Quat was elected as a Legislative Councilor for the Sha Tin District and was reelected in 2011. She is also a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor and an environmental protection photographer. She is also the author of two books, the most recent of which details her participation with “Elysium” in 2010, in an ice diving expedition in Antarctica to photograph its landscapes. After this event, Dr. Quat returned to Hong Kong to promote the protection of the Earth and marine life, hosting roughly 20 photography exhibitions and 50 community and school talks.