By Ernest Kao
No need to change our stance, official tells activist groups asking government to sign up
Hong Kong officials have rejected requests by activist groups for the city to join an African-led conservation initiative for elephants that aims to shut ivory markets and stamp out the trade.
The groups, including the African Wildlife Foundation, Wild Life Risk and WildAid, wrote to the government this month asking it to join the Elephant Protection Initiative.
Hong Kong is one of the world's biggest transit hubs and markets for contraband ivory, consistently ranking fifth for the quantity seized since the global trade in ivory was banned in 1989.
The Elephant Protection Initiative, started in February, requires partner states and organisations to work towards closing domestic ivory markets and to put all stockpiles beyond economic use. Five African elephant range states are part of the initiative - Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania.
In a written response to the activist groups, Richard Chan Ping-kwong, senior endangered species protection officer at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said there was no need to adjust conservation measures already in place.
"While [Hong Kong] would not be able to join the 'Elephant Protection Initiative' … we will continue our unwavering efforts to implement the CITES provisions and maintain our enforcement momentum," Chan wrote.
He was referring to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, an inter-governmental deal to protect plants and animals threatened by international trade. China is a signatory.
Hong Kong has banned all external trade of ivory but has a commercial licensing system to regulate the domestic sale of legal ivory. Chan said the system - which requires all who own commercial stocks of ivory in the city to obtain licences - was effective.
WildAid campaigner Alex Hofford expressed disappointment at the government's decision. The city should "stand in solidarity with the five African elephant range states", given its status as a huge ivory demand and transit point, he said.
"If Hong Kong could only join hands with them as the first non-range state to join the [initiative] ... It could send a very strong signal to the city's ivory traders that enough is enough, and that they should stop trading illegal ivory immediately," he said.
Hofford said he suspected the government turned down the invitation because Beijing had voted against joining the initiative at July's CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva.
Activists will protest against the government's decision outside the China Goods Centre, a major ivory goods retailer, in North Point at 11am today.
Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat earlier this year asked the initiative's secretariat to urge the Hong Kong government to join the programme. "Hong Kong now seems eligible to join the Elephant Protection Initiative as the city is currently undertaking the destruction of its stockpile and moving towards domestic legislation," she had said.
At the beginning of the year the government began destroying 28 tonnes of its 29.6-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory - the rest will be kept for scientific and teaching purposes. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said 11.4 tonnes had been destroyed and the incineration would continue until the middle of next year.