Hong Kong's Announcement On Banning Ivory Sales Is Huge — Here's Why

"[This is] a major milestone for elephant conservation."

In a move that could significantly reduce the rampancy of illegal poaching in Africa, Hong Kong announced a crackdown on the ivory trade, and will ban its import and export of elephant hunting trophies. Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, said in his annual policy address on Wednesday that the government will "take steps to ban totally the sale of ivory in Hong Kong."

"The government is very concerned about the illegal poaching of elephants in Africa," he said in his address. "It will kickstart legislative procedures as soon as possible to ban the import and export of elephant hunting trophies."

The move was hailed by animal rights activists. Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat, a longtime advocate for a complete ban on ivory sales, told the BBC that the government should "execute this commitment without delay," adding a plea to the people to support the decision: "I'm also calling on all Hong Kong people to strongly support this ... policy and see it through to the end."

As home to one of the world's busiest container terminals and airports, Hong Kong is one of Asia's main transits of ivory poached from Africa. In 2013, for example, Hong Kong Customs seized a staggering 2.183 tons of ivory that arrived from Togo.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the biggest animal and environmental conservancy organizations, welcomed Leung's announcement in a press release. But it also urged the Hong Kong government to do so without delay. 

"The Chief Executive's decision represents a significant step toward the end of Hong Kong's ivory trade and a major milestone for elephant conservation," said Gavin Edwards, conservation director, WWF-Hong Kong, in the press release. "The government must rapidly implement this decision and develop a concrete timeline to phase out the ivory trade because there is no time to waste."

Ivory is highly sought-after in many parts of Asia, and the demand for it has seen Africa's elephant and rhinoceros populations dwindle to a point where whole rangers groups have to be dedicated to protecting these animals against illegal poaching. 

Cover image via David Steele / Shutterstock