Wildlife organizations from around the world recently issued a letter to the secretary for the Environment of Hong Kong after uncovering evidence that the government has been issuing import and re-export licenses for “pre-convention” ivory. Greenpeace, IFAW, The Humane Society, Born Free, WildAid, WWF and The Jane Goodall Institute were just a few of the organizations in the letter demanding that action be taken.

What exactly is pre-convention ivory?


In 1973, representatives from 80 countries come together to create the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, in an effort to ensure the international trade would not threaten the survival of wild species. Pre-convention ivory, therefore, refers to all elephant tusks that were in circulation prior to the international agreement.

Hong Kong Government is Aiding and Abetting the Illegal Wildlife TradeFlickr


What’s The Big Deal?

Hong Kong is a primary importer of ivory, which fuels the illegal trade that is systematically leading to the decimation of the African elephant species. CITES even released an official ban on the international trade of ivory in 1989 due to the rate at which its sale was impacting the elephant population. Under the stipulations of this ban, only ivory that had been in circulation before 1989 could be sold and traded. Individuals who wish to sell or purchase pre-1989 ivory must have proper documentation that certifies the age of the piece; any other ivory products are effectively illegal.


However, in the years since this initial ban, the trade has continued to thrive and today it is estimated that one elephant is slaughtered for its ivory every 15 minutes!

At this rate, scientists estimate that the African elephant population will be extinct from the wild within the next two decades.

Hong Kong’s Failure to Protect Elephants

With this in mind, it is more important than ever for governments to step up and strictly enforce the laws in place regarding ivory. This means making sure that all ivory that is circulated domestically, and internationally, is truly certified as being pre-convention ivory. This is where Hong Kong has fallen incredibly short.

According to the wildlife organizations who issued this critical letter, there is a pressing concern that permits for pre-convention ivory are being used to cache ivory from recently poached elephants.  As the letter states:


“In 2013 Hong Kong imported 206 elephant tusks, including 191 from the European Union. These importations of so called pre-convention ivory drive demand and thus may accelerate poaching. Moreover, there are concerns that re-export certificates issued by exporting countries are being re-used in importing countries to launder ivory from freshly poached elephants. Failures in checks and controls can enable to feed Hong Kong’s legal market with illegal ivory.”

Traders in Hong Kong also account for some of the largest exports of ivory and these actions only increase the already prodigious demand for this precious substance.


Hong Kong Government is Aiding and Abetting the Illegal Wildlife TradeFlickr


While Hong Kong’s Environment Bureau insists the government is committed to the protection of endangered species, the letter calls on the government to suspend the import and re-export of ivory in Hong Kong to reduce the demand and allow the government to gain control of the ivory being sold. The letter cites the countries who have suspended the re-export of ivory, including the United States, requesting Hong Kong follow in their footsteps.

What You Can Do

Unfortunately, the African elephant population is running out of time and if we want to save this species from extinction, we need to act quickly. While as individuals it may be difficult to influence large governments to instate all-out bans on the import and export of ivory, together we can make a real difference for elephants.


If you’d like to get involved in the fight against the ivory trade, here are a few things you can do:

  • Say NO to all products made of ivory. Remember, when the buying stops, so does the killing.
  • Support organizations working to end the wildlife trade.
  • Send a letter to Mr. Wong Kam Sing, the Secretary for the Environment, and let him know you support the organizations urging Hong Kong to suspend the trade of ivory.

Image source: Flickr