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February 17, 2019

Will Hong Kong ivory ban reduce poaching in Kenya?

STOPPED: A police officer demonstrates a curved ivory statue in China last year.
STOPPED: A police officer demonstrates a curved ivory statue in China last year.

WHEN conservation experts from Kenya made a fact finding mission to Hong Kong last year, they returned a verdict that the killing of elephants will not stop until the trade in Hong Kong ends.

They counted 30,856 pieces of ivory up for sale in 72 outlets in the city state.

The experts found that ivory prices have, in fact, doubled in four years. Hong Kong is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Asia. The city has a population of about seven million people yet attracts more than 50 million visitors a year, mostly mainland Chinese.

Kenyan activists have been campaigning to have ivory that was being sold in Hong Kong phased out.

And there is light at the end of the tunnel. Speaking during his annual policy address on January 13, Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, said the government will "take steps to ban totally the sale of ivory in Hong Kong," adding that it would "impose heavier penalties on smuggling and illegal trading of endangered species."

He said the country will kick start legislative procedures as soon as possible to effect this ban.

“This is good news, they have to understand that an elephant communicates, they have emotions and their ivory is not something that can be sold,” Save the elephants head of awareness, Resson Kantai told the Star.

Kantai was among Kenyans who have been campaigning for Hong Kong's ban.

She says now that the demand side has been addressed, poaching should drastically go down.

According to the report authored by Esmond and Chryssee Martin, and Lucy Vigne, dubbed Hong Kong's ivory: more items for sale than in any other world in the city, there were a minimum of 37 seizures of 14,944 kilogrammes of ivory smuggled into Hong Kong from 2011 through 2013.

"Traders find it safer to ship large ivory consignments by sea via the ports of export countries that are more corrupt. In contrast, smaller shipments, both raw and worked ivory, are sometimes carried by air in luggage to Hong Kong," the report notes.

Kantai says corruption, which is one of the issues that continue to drag the eradication of poaching, must be addressed.

The report, released December last year, says Hong Kong officials had confiscated and reported to Elephant Trade Information System a third largest weight of seized ivory for that year: 8.265 tonnes, surpassed only by Kenya's (14.5 tonnes) and Tanzania's (9.5 tonnes).

The report had predicted that the future of the Hong Kong ivory business depended on three factors. First, on the large price difference between ivory items displayed for sale in shops in Hong Kong and the mainland, secondly, with continuing strong demand for ivory in mainland China and thirdly with the mainlanders being permitted by their government to continue to visit Hong Kong in large numbers as they can do today.

The future also depends on how long Hong Kong stocks last and how much longer dealers will be allowed to sell them, the report notes.

Kantai, while citing the ongoing case against Feisal Mohammed, says his arrest had shown  the enforcement of the new wildlife laws is working.

Kenya has one of the most punitive laws on wildlife crime, setting a maximum life imprisonment or a fine of Sh20 million for poachers.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Prof Judi Wakhungu gave a thumbs up to the Hong Kong government, attributing the success to the campaign that "alarmed countries such as Hong Kong."

"Our elephants are in danger and we cannot win unless we address the ivory destination," Prof Wakhungu told the Star on phone immediately the announcement was made.

The phasing out comes as a relieve as several campaigns to have ivory use reduced in the past have not been fruitful.

Prof Wakhungu, while praising the Kenya's wildlife law as the most punitive in the world, notes that market for ivory will gradually decline.

She says the government has enhanced surveillance at all ports of entry with the help of an inter-agency team.

She says she will extend her lobbying to ensure that funding for her ministry is increased during the supplementary budget.

Prof Wakhungu said more vehicles as well as hiring of more rangers are top on her list.

“We have plans to employ over 600 rangers during the supplementary budget to add to the over 3,000 we already have to boost wildlife security in the country,” she said.

The ivory report said 15 gift shops, widely scattered, had 1,093 counted ivory items on display, an average of 73 items per shop.

Most objects were jewellery (54 per cent), especially pendants, earrings and rings. Next in quantity were figurines.

The report notes adding that vendors were concerned about the public outcry against the retail sale of ivory products.

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