By Steven Gallagher
Elephant ivory has been coveted for millennia for its natural beauty and suitability for intricate carving. Demand for ivory led to the near extinction of elephants in the wild in the early 1970s. Measures to protect them included the prosecution of poachers, the interception of smuggled consignments of ivory, and the prosecution of those selling illegally obtained ivory.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was intended to control the trade in species which are now or may become threatened with extinction. Hong Kong has implemented the provisions of the convention in the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, which restricts the import, introduction from the sea, export, re-export or possession or control of specimens of specified species. Elephants are listed as a species threatened with extinction. The ordinance provides for confiscation of restricted specimens and fines and imprisonment on conviction for offences involving import, export and possession.
In 1990, CITES contracting states agreed to a ban on elephant ivory trading. In Hong Kong, ivory which was imported before the ban may be sold for the domestic market. Ivory traders must register with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and must register all premises which hold ivory for commercial purposes. No ivory may be exported from Hong Kong without a permit from the department.
Hong Kong is the largest legal ivory market in the world, with a survey conducted in 2011 counting 33,526 ivory items on display for retail sale in 62 outlets. Hong Kong is also the gateway to and from the mainland for illegal trade in ivory. Recent seizures of ivory smuggled into Hong Kong and the mainland have highlighted a renewed threat of extinction of elephants due to an apparent demand from China's rich. More....