Hong Kong Moves to Ban All Ivory Sales, Closing a Loophole

Despite the high volume of ivory that passes through the city, most Hong Kong residents do not think it should be sold, polls have indicated. In a survey conducted by WildAid and Hong Kong University in 2014, 96 percent of respondents said they had never purchased ivory and 71 percent supported banning ivory sales in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong customs officials seized 7.2 tons of elephant tusks in July that had been concealed under a shipment of frozen fish from Malaysia.

Alex Hofford/European Pressphoto Agency

Opponents of the ban argue that the trade should be preserved for its artistic and historical significance. Some lawmakers have suggested that the government should buy out ivory traders’ stock and display it in a museum, or that traders should be compensated in some other way.

“To expect ivory artisans in their 60s to change industries is impractical,” one lawmaker, Peter Shiu, said Wednesday. “Do you expect them to take online courses?”

But other lawmakers pointed out that Hong Kong’s traders have had almost 30 years to get out of the business since the global ban went into effect, and noted that they would have until the end of 2021 to do so under the new law. And they opposed the idea of compensation.

“Providing any form of compensation will signal that Hong Kong is buying ivory, which will likely cause a surge in poaching,” said another lawmaker, Ted Hui.

Wildlife advocacy groups say tens of thousands of African elephants are killed for their tusks each year.

China has historically been a major center of demand for ivory, but it banned all sales at the end of December, following a partial ban and a public awareness campaign. Chinese state media said last month that the price of raw ivory had fallen by 65 percent.

Activists were concerned that China’s moves against ivory had caused a surge in demand in Hong Kong. A third of licensed traders have encouraged buyers to smuggle ivory out of the city, according to a report released last year.

The efficacy of China’s ban depends on cutting off access to ivory in Hong Kong as well, lawmakers and activists said. “Hong Kong is one of the last havens for smugglers to conduct their activities with impunity,” Mr. Hui said.

Correction: February 1, 2018

An earlier version of this article misquoted Peter Shiu, a Hong Kong lawmaker. He said, “To expect ivory artisans” — not “traders” — “in their 60s to change industries is impractical.”

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