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Friday, January 15, 2016, 08:47

Govt’s decision to outlaw local ivory trade applauded

By Sylvia Chang in Hong Kong

Animal rights groups have praised Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s pledge, in his Wednesday Policy Address, to outlaw the ivory trade in Hong Kong.

Although they say the proposed measure is a historic “milestone” in response to a global outcry against the rampant poaching of elephants, they say it is only the first step toward greater awareness of the value of endangered wildlife and respect for biodiversity.

The import and export of ivory was banned globally in 1989, after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) came into effect in 1975 to protect the world’s endangered species.

Hong Kong, however, permits the circulation of ivory in the local market and the import of pre-1975 ivory — most of which was elephant hunting trophies.

Statistics from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department show that in 2014 about 4,152 kilograms of pre-1975 ivory was imported into Hong Kong, more than four times the 989 kilograms in 2013.

Conservationists say that this ivory is mixed up with ivory smuggled into the city, which helps encourage more elephants to be killed in Africa and their tusks to be smuggled to the mainland.

Leung stressed in his Policy Address that the import and export of elephant hunt trophies would be banned “as soon as possible”.

Cheryl Lo, senior wildlife crime officer of the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong, said this showed the government’s determination to stop the illicit ivory trade. She urged the government to put forward a detailed timeline and plan to achieve this.

Civic Exchange, a public policy think tank, expects the government to do more to realize a “macro-picture” of wildlife protection.

“Hong Kong doesn’t have any regulation on restraining the trade of wildlife animals that are not listed in CITES,” explained Yip Yan-yan, chief executive officer of Civic Exchange.

Yip said African elephants accounted for only a small percentage of endangered wildlife and the issue needed greater public awareness. She added that in order to achieve a “sustainable ecosystem”, policies to protect other animals, such as sharks (in the fin trade) and live reef food fish, were also needed.

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