By Cheung Chi-fai
Hong Kong is on the frontline in the fight against illegal ivory trafficking, and has a growing role as a transit point of the illicit trade, according to reports by the UN and a wildlife agency.
Large-scale seizures in the city in recent years point to the involvement of organised crime, one of the reports says.
Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Hong Kong accounted for, or was implicated in, 60 per cent, or 21 out of 34 large-scale seizures since 2009 totalling 41.1 tonnes, according to a report on ivory trade submitted to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
In 2011, seizures in Hong Kong represented about 8 per cent of the world's reported hauls by weight, according to figures from the Customs and Excise Department and from the report by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
"These four countries and territories currently constitute the frontline defence for preventing large-scale movements of ivory into the two key end-use markets," the report said.
"Typically, these transit points are used to change the identity of containers originating in Africa so that their onward shipment to China or Thailand does not attract … attention."
To combat the smuggling, it called for better intelligence to allow more effective enforcement at major seaports including Hong Kong, which handles millions of cargo containers a year.
The city was identified as a thriving market before the worldwide ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1990.
It is still labelled as a "transit gateway" to the ivory markets in a report titled Elephants in the Dust by the UN, Traffic and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
From the amount of ivory seizures, "Hong Kong features both as a transit point for ivory either entering Asia directly from Africa or from other points in Asia," Dr Richard Thomas, a spokesman for Traffic, said. More....