CALLS TO ACTION
Hong Kong’ ivory trade.
IT’S LIKELY THAT FEW OF THE THOUSANDS of rangers that patrol the African bush, protecting its endangered wildlife, have ever set foot in Hong Kong. To them, this city thousands of kilometres away from their land would be an abstraction, save for one stone cold fact. As a global transhipment hub for ivory and other animal products, Hong Kong is one of t he reasons something like 100 of them are killed every year. “I am alive today because I was lucky,” said Eric Mararv, manager of the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, at a press conference organised by WWF Hong Kong on June 6. More than a year previously, his patrol was attacked by poachers. He was shot through the leg; three of his men were killed. He showed a slide of 24-year-old Do Do, the only other survivor from the firefight. “He’s my friend. He’s still alive today; I hope he’ll still be when I go back.” Marar v was in Hong Kong to lend his emotional testimony to the lobby to hasten a total ban on the ivory trade in the city. Though an international ban was placed on sales of ivory in 1990s, it was up to each local authority around the world to decide what to do with any stock held by traders that predated the ban. The demand from China, the world’s biggest market for ivory, was just too tempting and so trade has continued in the region. This was supposedly tolerated for pre-1990 ivory only but lacking a convenient and quick way to date ivory, the ban has been easily circumvented. After much foot-dragging, China finally opted to obliterate the trade entirely by the end of this year. Hong Kong, however, has still to act. Current proposals talk of a five-year grace period and the city’s ivory merchants are also pushing for compensation. This is despite the fact that age-tested samples point out to the vast majority of ivory currently circulating in the Hong Kong market being illegally acquired after the 1990 ban. As the China ban curbs supply in the country, there’s a concern that the trade may move elsewhere in the region if other countries don’t act too. According to a recent report on global wildlife trafficking in the air transport sector, “Flying Under the Radar”, China saw 102 known incidents of ivory trafficking between 2009 and 2016, with Thailand in third place with 34 and Vietnam at fifth with 23. Though the rest of Southeast Asia has been less often on traffickers’ radar due to China’s monstrous demand, lax laws on wildlife crimes and the growing number of available connecting flights between Africa and Southeast Asia poses an ongoing risk. For the time being, lacking a complete international ban, or telling action on the part of the city’s legislators, all the concerned citizens of Hong Kong can do is help educate its millions of visitors, especially those from the Mainland who are thought to buy up to 90% of the city’s supply.