Hongkongers for the most part unaware about extent of illegal ivory sale


by Lana Lam, South China Morning Post

Date Published
A new survey examining the city’s ivory trade reveals that just one in four people in Hong Kong know the illegal sale of ivory helps fill the coffers of terrorists and fund organised crime.

The survey, to be released by US-based environment group WildAid on Tuesday, is the first such study of ivory consumption in the city.

It found that just 26 per cent of respondents knew that ivory poaching was linked to militant groups and organised crime.

“Money that is being used to pay for ivory in Hong Kong is funding criminal syndicates that drive the elephant poaching, and only one in every four people in Hong Kong are aware of this fact,” said Alex Hofford from WildAid Hong Kong.

“The illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illicit global trade after money laundering, narcotics and counterfeiting – yet the Hong Kong government doesn’t seem to care,” he said.

“The laundered millions in profits from illegal ivory sales in Hong Kong are being funnelled back to Africa to bankroll civil conflicts and armed terror groups such as Boko Haram and al-Shabbab.”

In July, a report from the United Nations Environment Programme revealed militant groups across Africa and the Middle East were able to raise millions through ivory trafficking.

For example, the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda had made between US$4 million and US$12 million every year from trafficking ivory, the report found.

WildAid’s new survey, conducted by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme, comes at the halfway point in a two-year drive to burn the city’s massive ivory stockpile, a move that took years of lobbying from wildlife groups.

Last May, authorities incinerated the first batch. About 28 tonnes is expected to be burnt by the end of the project, about three tonnes every month.

For the survey, more than 1,000 residents were asked to share their views on ivory poaching at a time when elephant populations in Africa are being decimated and as demand for ivory grows, primarily fuelled by mainland Chinese buyers. In recent years, the price of ivory has more than tripled with the rare tusks commanding up to US$2,100 per kilogram, making the trade lucrative for poachers and traders.

Hofford said efforts to curb the illegal trade must be backed by further action, such as a commercial ban on the sale of ivory in Hong Kong, long a popular transit point for ivory shipments destined for the mainland.

“The Hong Kong government has an ethical and moral duty to protect its citizens and its tourists by banning commercial ivory sales here. A ban would ensure that ill-informed consumers of meaningless ivory trinkets would no longer be able to blindly underwrite terror attacks on ordinary working people in Africa,” Hofford said.

Estimates of the amount of illegal ivory destined for the Chinese market range from 60 to 90 per cent of the total supply leaving Africa. In February, Beijing imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports in an attempt to address the problem, while last year, six tonnes of illegal ivory was destroyed in Dongguan , Guangdong.