In a somewhat surprising turn, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying of Hong Kong has announced plans to stop the ivory trade in the city, which would eliminate one of the world’s largest ivory marketplaces. Leung did not have a timetable for the cessation of the ivory trade in Hong Kong, but affirmed that “It will be a total ban.”
While the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna saw its signatories, including Hong Kong, ban ivory trade in 1990, this did not apply to existing stockpiles. Since then, those stockpiles haven’t shrunk much, indicating a large amount of black market activity among the sellers authorized to sell ivory goods. But, as efforts to conserve endangered species of elephants have gathered steam in recent years — prompting the United States and China, the largest buyer of ivory goods, to ban trade in ivory this past September — Hong Kong may have felt the need to follow suit.
While the announcement was unexpected, it may not be too surprising — given that purchase and sale of ivory is in large part an illegal activity as is, the Hong Kong government likely wasn’t getting much revenue from the activity. The question now is whether the announcement is lip service to the zeitgeist or something more substantive. The latter will be difficult — once laws have been passed in accordance with this announcement, current ivory dealers will be subject to harsh punishments, but demand won’t go away and there’s still an established black market infrastructure. Rooting out the ivory trade for good will be a costly undertaking and will require an international effort to prevent poaching. Still, with the recent moves against the ivory trade and Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus announcing they will retire elephants from their shows after this May, things seem to be moving in the right direction for the world’s elephants.