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Saturday, October 24, 2015, 12:06

Green group urges ivory trade ban

By Shadow Li in Hong Kong
Green group urges ivory trade ban

WildAid chief executive officer Peter Knight (left), Chinese actress Li Bingbing (center), and Hong Kong lawmaker Elizabeth Quat pose for a photograph at a WildAid event supporting a ban on the ivory trade in Admiralty on Friday. WildAid aims to end the illegal wildlife trade across the globe. It envisions a world where people no longer buy wildlife products such as shark fin, elephant ivory and rhino horn . (Parker Zheng /China Daily)

Hong Kong was named as a safe haven for smuggling illegal ivory due to a long-standing loophole in its regulations, according to a report released on Friday by WildAid.

The conservation group based in the United States urged the SAR government to phase out domestic ivory trading, as it has provided a cover for the ivory trafficking industry. This has prospered as the mainland economy has continued to grow over the years.

Hong Kong has outlawed imports of ivory since 1989. Domestic trade of registered ivory is allowed as long as it was imported before the ban was imposed. By then, the city was said to have a stockpile of 670 metric tons of ivory. Yet, 26 years after the ban, the total stockpile of ivory remains at around 117 tons.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) records show that, in 2014, the city had 111.3 tons of ivory in stock. However, it is estimated that Hong Kong’s legal ivory stock should have been sold out by 2004 based on sales rates from previous years.

"History has shown that legal ivory sales only serve to provide a cover for the illegal trade, which fuels the rampant poaching we see across Africa,” said Peter Knights, WildAid chief executive officer.

"If elephants are to stand any chance of surviving, Hong Kong must join the Chinese mainland and the US in shuttering its market,” he added.

The report pointed out that illegal ivory was used to replenish the existing stocks by traders in the city — the main reason why the stock has changed so little over the years.

Undercover videos by the green group show a trader confirming this theory. He also claims the traffickers can provide as much as 10 tons of ivory at any time, while the largest amount of stock held by any traders in the city is 6 tons.

A Hong Kong ivory trader, Daniel Chan Chun-bo, managing director of Lise Carving & Jewellery Factory, rejected the accusation. He said sluggish sales were the reason the stocks showed little change.

Green group urges ivory trade ban

Li Bingbing speaks at a WildAid press conference at Admiralty, Hong Kong, on Oct 23, 2015. (Parker Zheng / China Daily)

The WildAid report also blasted the regulators for going easy on illegal traders. In 2014, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department seized roughly 2.2 tons of illegal ivory. But the maximum penalty for ivory trafficking is just six months in jail or a light fine.

Traders caught on hidden camera were also found to have taught their customers how to smuggle the ivory into the mainland, where trade is expected to be phased out by the government.

A survey by the University of Hong Kong last December revealed that three out of four people interviewed agreed Hong Kong should impose a ban on the ivory trade. But the government has failed to take effective action against the growing illegal business.

The group also urged the government to establish a wildlife crime unit to crack down on the illicit trade, along with tougher penalties against offenders.

The AFCD, in response, said it has introduced a series of measures targeting the smuggling of ivory, including stepping up joint operations with other law enforcement agencies, deploying sniffer dogs to detect ivory at import and export check points and strengthening checks on ivory stocks.

The department said it would consider a ban on domestic trade, depending on future need.

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