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Hong Kong Just Threw a Major Lifeline to African Elephants at Risk of Being Poached

Legal ivory is no more.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
2 FEB 2018
 

The city of Hong Kong - home to the world's largest ivory market - has officially announced that it will end sales of "white gold" by the end of 2021, and conservationists are stoked.

 

The four-year plan will slowly phase out the current legal market. First, it will ban ivory obtained after 1975, and then later it will extend the ban to ivory obtained before 1975.

There will also be much harsher penalties for those who try to smuggle ivory in. The new law will increase the prison sentence for smuggling from two to ten years, as well as double the fine for smuggling, increasing it to a whopping $1.3 million.

The news is terribly exciting for conservationists and advocates who claim the city-state's ivory market is responsible for the slaughter of more than 30,000 African elephants every year.

"Shutting down this massive ivory market has thrown a lifeline to elephants," said Bert Wander of the global advocacy group Avaaz.

Still, some conservationists think the timeline for the new law is far too long for such a pressing issue.

"Every positive step to us concerning elephants is good news," says Philip Muruthi, vice president of species protection for the Nairobi-based African Wildlife Foundation. 

"But the urgency of the issue as it pertains to elephants hasn't been taken seriously here."

 

Right now, there are only about 350,000 African elephants left, thanks in large part to poaching. The loss of elephant populations has been dramatic and fast, and the species is currently listed as vulnerable. Just a decade ago, there were 490,000 more elephants on planet Earth.

Under the new law, traders and shop owners will have to hand over their ivory stockpiles by 2021, and they will receive no compensation, as ivory generally only makes up a small part of their business.

The decision comes one year after mainland China also decided to shut down its ivory trade. As a result, more than 90% of the people who are buying ivory in Hong Kong are from the mainland. Many conservationists are worried that traders will see this as an opportunity to get rid of their ivory stores.

"With the later implementation of the Hong Kong ban, those with ivory in mainland China might perceive a potential back door for unloading their stock," said Richard Thomas, spokesman for a wildlife trade monitoring organization.

"It will be critical to closely monitor and document ivory stockpiles and secure borders to ensure this door remains firmly shut."

It's now up to the city's law enforcement to make sure the new ban is properly upheld.