Hong Kong votes to impose domestic ivory ban by 2021

31 / 01 / 2018

  • Pic: Martin Harvey/WWF

The Hong Kong Legislative Council has voted to pass a bill that will end local ivory trade in Hong Kong, with no compensation for ivory dealers, and an increase of maximum penalties for wildlife crimes of up to 10 years imprisonment. 

“Today’s decision is another milestone for the conservation of elephants, and should serve as further encouragement for governments in the region to put an end to the domestic ivory markets that fuel the poaching crisis,” said James Compton, senior programme director, Asia Pacific, for TRAFFIC, the non-governmental wildlife trade monitoring network.

“Hong Kong's legislators should be congratulated for choosing to stand on the right side of history.”

However, TRAFFIC said that concerns remain that the closure of Hong Kong's ivory markets will be implemented in phases between now and 2021.

With immediate effect, the amended law will ban the trade in elephant trophies, while an end to ivory imports and exports will follow three months after the law comes into effect. Commercial trade of ivory within the territory can continue until the end of 2021, after which all ivory trading will cease, with the exception of the antiques trade in ivory carved before the year 1925. 

This, said TRAFFIC, leaves "a gap of four years between the closure of ivory markets in Hong Kong and mainland China, with the latter having shut down all of its registered ivory outlets at the end of 2017".

Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC's elephant and rhino programme leader, said: “Hong Kong and mainland China’s ivory markets have long been closely linked, but the disparity in policies between them could lead to the perception of Hong Kong as an open store in the midst of a curfew.

“Close regulation and monitoring is essential to prevent any laundering of ivory to the still open markets in Hong Kong, which would seriously undermine efforts in mainland China to implement its ivory trade ban.”

TRAFFIC’s recently published report Closing Strategy: ending ivory trade in Hong Kong encouraged the Hong Kong SAR Government to implement measures to elevate its capacity to tackle ivory trafficking, including co-operation with other law enforcement agencies, especially in mainland China, to boost investigation and real-time intelligence sharing. 

“It is more important than ever to remain vigilant of illegal trade activities on both Hong Kong and mainland China,” said Compton, adding: "Authorities should take advantage the passage of this bill, which imparts the full force of the law to support enforcement actions in Hong Kong.”

TRAFFIC’s recent report also recommended a rapid implementation of an ivory ban alongside measures to improve oversight, record-keeping and transparency of the trade in registered ivory, of which latest figures from the government suggests there are still 64 tonnes remaining in the territory.