Hong Kong’s legislature has voted to ban ivory sales, after a years-long battle to ban the trade.

ivory hong kong ban
Photo: WildAidHK.

The Endangered Species of Animals and Plants (Amendment) Bill 2017 passed on Wednesday with the support of 49 lawmakers.

Legislators Frankie Yick, Felix Chung, Shiu Ka-fai and Eunice Yung voted against the ban.

ivory ban protesters
Activists gather to urge legislators to approve the ban, ahead of Wednesday’s vote. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Lawmakers and activists gathered at the legislature ahead of the vote chanting “when the buying stops, the killing stops too.”

Alex Hofford, WildAid Hong Kong Campaigner said it was a great day for elephants: “Hong Kong has always been the ‘heart of darkness’ of the ivory trade with a 670 tonne stockpile when international trade was banned in 1989. With great support from the Hong Kong people, our five-year campaign has finally paid off.”

ivory hong kong ban
Photo: WildAidHK.

“It started with the destruction of the seized ivory stockpile. Then we persuaded Hong Kong’s four large department stores to stop selling ivory. We exposed how traders were using paperwork of the legal trade to launder freshly poached ivory into the system. Finally, almost all Hong Kong lawmakers have been persuaded to support a Bill that will secure great protection for African elephants,” Hofford said.

By the middle of 2018, there will be a ban on the import and re-export of ivory which predates the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The bill also increase the penalties for wildlife crime.

ivory elephants legco ban
Photo: Alex Hofford/WildAid.

Bert Wander, campaign director for the Avaaz campaigning website, welcomed the news: “Shutting down this massive ivory market has thrown a lifeline to elephants. People all over the globe are standing up for these magnificent creatures and governments are listening. First it was China, then Hong Kong and next we’re taking this ban to Europe to stop the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory.”

Lawmaker Ted Hui said that the government should now study regulations on shark fin: “Protecting endangered species and strictly regulating industries that rely on wildlife is a responsibility of all countries in the world. Let us keep spreading this positive message.”

Grace period

Protesters opposed to the ban also gathered outside the Legislative Council early on Wednesday.

The Hong Kong Ivory Industry and Commerce Association’s Chow Fuk-sang told HKFP that, if the ban is passed, it would destroy the livelihoods of ivory craftsmen: “We have a group of elderly craftsmen – we’re about to retire, and we hope the government could give us a way out… if they do this, our retirement funds will all be gone. We demand that the government make reasonable and suitable arrangements for this group of people.”

Traders have a five year grace period to dispose of stock.

So Chi-keung, president of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ivory Manufacturers Association, holding a petition letter to the government, urging the protection of their “legal property” whilst still preserving elephants. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Chow also said that the ban would “eliminate” the ivory craft tradition, which has a long history and tradition and is rooted in Chinese culture.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat said: “I applaud the Hong Kong government, my fellow Legislative Councillors and the general public for supporting this Bill to ban the cruel and unsustainable ivory trade.”

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Citing the Kenya Wildlife Service, WildAid said that elephant poaching in Kenya is down from 390 elephants in 2013 to just 46 last year.

Additional reporting: Karen Cheung. 

Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.