By Danny Lee
As city prepares to burn its 30-tonne pile of seized ivory, conservationists say more action is needed to save elephants from extinction
A coalition of animal welfare and conservation groups is demanding the government impose a complete ban on the sale of elephant ivory in Hong Kong.
The coalition, led by local charity group Hong Kong for Elephants, wrote to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to make the demand, which comes as the city prepares to begin incinerating its stockpile of seized ivory.
"To stigmatise ivory consumption, reduce demand and improve enforcement efforts, our coalition is now calling on the Hong Kong government to outlaw all ivory sales in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," said the letter signed by Hong Kong for Elephants co-founder Alex Hofford and actress Sharon Kwok Sau-wan.
Since a 1989 worldwide ban on the international trade in ivory, Hong Kong shops with government-issued licences have been able to sell certain types of ivory, including products carved before 1989, ivory from the tusks of extinct mammoths, and ivory bought from government stockpile sales in southern Africa.
The group has gathered more than 50 signatures from senior executives and directors of charities in 23 countries that are working to eradicate elephant poaching in Africa. The signatories include WildAid executive director Peter Knights, International Fund for Animal Welfare's Asia director Grace Ge Gabriel and International Animal Rescue chief executive Alan Knight.
The city will burn the first batch of its 30-tonne ivory stockpile tomorrow to discourage illegal imports. Up to three tonnes can be burnt in a batch. But the coalition said the incineration "did not go far enough" and that a total ban on ivory sales in the city would help enforce the government's message.
Hofford and Kwok said Hong Kong should follow Beijing's example. In December, China and 30 other countries at a summit in Botswana signed an agreement that rendered the trade of ivory a serious crime, enforceable under international law. The nations agreed to coordinate intelligence efforts to seize illegal ivory shipments, extradite ivory traders and enforce stricter prison sentences.
"The killing of elephants must be stopped and Hong Kong has a central role to play," said Hofford and Kwok.
"Scientists estimate that if current poaching rates continue unabated, key African elephant populations could be wiped out within the next few years.
"No one needs ivory products, but we do need to save elephants - one of the planet's most iconic and ecologically important animals - from wanton slaughter and extinction."
The activists had cause for celebration when retail giant Yue Hwa announced last Friday that it had axed its sales of ivory after mounting pressure.
It was the last of three major department chains engaged in the ivory trade to scrap its sales. The other two were Chinese Arts and Crafts and Wing On Department Stores.
Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat said she would help the activists lobby for a ban on ivory sales.