By Li Jiejun
The UK government will host an international conference on the illegal wildlife trade on Thursday. The conference will bring together global leaders to help eradicate the trade and help protect endangered species.
Meanwhile, the rampant trade of ivory in Asia is driving African elephant populations towards extinction and China is the world’s biggest market. Hong Kong, is responsible for part of that demand, and it’s a transit port for ivory entering the mainland. Authorities there say they are determined to clamp down on the trade.
An ivory store in Hong Kong. Bracelets, chopsticks, crafts and pairs of tusks. The lure is hard for many to resist.
“A lot of people come to buy ivory chopsticks, and the crafts as well. They are all authentic. We can provide certificates.”
What the collectors call “white gold”, ivory usually represents wealth and nobleness. But what behind the fancy carvings is a cruel slaughter.
It’s estimated that last year alone some 36,000 African elephants were slaughtered to fuel the illicit ivory trade -- a rate that one elephant killed every 15 minutes.
Experts warn unless elephants are protected from this threat, it may be just five to ten years before the species is wiped out in the wild.
Despite the global ban on ivory trade in 1989, the illegal business is still flourishing.
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, China is the world’s largest ivory market, accounting for an estimated 70% of global consumption. The group said that ivory in China can cost as much as 2,400 US dollars a kilogram.
And Hong Kong is a key transit point of illegal ivory entering Chinese mainland.
“HK plays the role as do several other markets and transit points enroute from Africa to these destinations, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia.” Senior program director James Compton said.
As both a demand city and also one of the largest transit points, Hong Kong is at the forefront of this battle to halt the ivory trade.
The government has taken harsh measures to fight the ivory smuggling, but the nature of the ivory trade adds to the complexity in enforcement.
From the initial poaching, to trafficking, and sale in the destination country, the process is highly organised. This makes catching illegal traders extremely difficult.
“One of the biggest obstacles is there’s not enough intelligence-led law enforcement, that HK government working with other governments to transmit reliable information that can break this supply chains.” Compton said.
“On the top level, anti-proaching. That’s how to stop the elephants being killed. Then on the middle level, anti-trafficking. And more importantly, on the consumer level, how to ask the consumers to stop this behavior.” Cw Cheung with World Wildlife Fund said.
Hong Kong has seized over 30 tons of contraband ivory in the past decade, making it one of the biggest stockpiles in the world. The SAR government says most of the ivory will be incinerated in the next one to two years.The move is hailed as a significant step in combating the illegal trade in elephant tusks.
Hong Kong is sending a strong message that the city will not tolerate ivory trafficking, because of the toll it’s taking on elephant populations, particularly in Africa. But destroying the tusks does not address the root of the problem. Eliminating the market demand should be the number one priority, because if there is no demand, there will be no slaughter.