A prominent Hong Kong trader was fined HK$8,000 on Tuesday for possession of banned ivory, but NGO WildAid has described the penalty as overly lenient.

Lau Sai-yuan, president of the Hong Kong Art Craft Merchants Association, pleaded guilty at the Eastern Magistrates Court to a charge of possessing ivory poached after 1990, when an international convention against trade in endangered species came into effect.

Lau Sai-yuan.

Lau is also a member of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department’s Endangered Species Advisory Committee.

The charges against Lau stemmed from an operation by the same department last June, when officers purchased two pairs of ivory chopsticks from shops in Central.

Radiocarbon dating analysis found that the ivory contained in the two items was obtained after 1990.

The two pairs of chopsticks purchased during the operation. Photo: Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

WildAid campaigner Alex Hofford told HKFP that the fine was unlikely to deter others from trading in banned ivory. He said that in African countries – where elephants and rhinoceroses are poached for their tusks – traders can be jailed for many years.

Traders have also been jailed in mainland China, which imposed a blanket ban on the trade last December.

“Both species are getting closer to extinction, rangers are dying, whilst wildlife smugglers and traders get off with a slap on the wrist,” said Hofford.

“The courts need to send an unequivocal signal to the elephant ivory and rhino horn criminal traffickers – and traders – who use our city as a hub for their illegal activities, that they are no longer welcome in Hong Kong.”

File photo: Alex Hofford/WildAid.

Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, possession of post-1990 ivory is punishable by a maximum two years’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$5 million.

Hofford added that the penalties for possession will be increased under the proposed Legislative Council bill to ban the ivory trade completely.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.