IN a landmark victory for wildlife campaigners, Hong Kong has overwhelmingly voted to ban ivory and end the infamous trade in what is known as the world’s largest marketplace.
Lawmakers voted on the bill on Wednesday, which will gradually phase out sales, stopping completely by 2021. Hong Kong follows China’s complete ban on ivory sales that went into effect at the end of last year.
“Shutting down this massive ivory market has thrown a lifeline to elephants,” said Bert Wander of global advocacy group Avaaz, as reported by The Guardian.
“Today is a great day for elephants. Hong Kong has always been the ‘heart of darkness’ of the ivory trade with a 670-tonne stockpile when international trade was banned in 1989,” said Alex Hofford of WildAid Hong Kong.
Prior to the vote, demonstrators gathered outside Hong Kong’s legislature with signs reading: “Do you really need ivory chopsticks?” and “That 6g bracelet killed a 6,000kg elephant.”
“When the buying stops, the killing stops too,” anti-#Ivory protesters chant as #HongKong votes to ban the trade.@ste_kenya @leodicaprio @avaaz @wwfhk @alexhofford @WildAidHK pic.twitter.com/cZKK0olgRt
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) January 31, 2018
The steps taken to phase out the practice include a ban on trade in hunting trophies and ivory dating from after 1975, when a global treaty regulating the trade took effect. It would later extend to ivory acquired before 1975, and finally traders would have to dispose of their stock by 2021.
Penalties for offenders will be increased to a maximum fine of HK$10m (US$1.3 million) and 10 years’ imprisonment.
Activists fear the delayed timeline could be exploited and may be too late for the African elephant that continues to be poached in high numbers.
Despite the looming ban, the ivory trade has continued to boom in what is considered the world’s largest marketplace.
After the global trade was banned in 1989, only ivory dating before that period is allowed to be sold,but conservationists say this legal trade is being used as a cover for a thriving illegal market.
In July 2017, authorities in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tonnes of ivory tusks worth more than US$9 million – the world’s biggest ever haul.
African ivory is highly sought after in China, where it is seen as a status symbol, and used to fetch as much as US$1,100 a kilogram.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, poaching has seen the African elephant population fall by 110,000 over the past decade to just 415,000 animals.