Activists from Hong Kong for Elephants, as well as

other concern groups and individuals, gathered in Hong Kong’s North Point district today to protest outside a store selling huge quantities of African elephant ivory. Local and international calls are growing for more, and stricter, regulation of the city’s out-of-control ivory trade. This is a necessary first step towards a full commercial ban, and the activists want to alert the Hong Kong public that they should wake up to their responsibilities and rally the Hong Kong government to shut down this cruel and rapacious trade.

The blame for the slaughter of tens of thousands of African elephants in the last five years can be laid squarely at the feet of the Hong Kong ivory traders.  At a time when it has been scientifically proven that Africa lost 100,000 elephants from 2010 through to 2012 [1], we are calling on the city’s ivory traders to explain to the public exactly why their so-called “old stocks” of ivory have not been depleted long ago.

Hong Kong’s ivory traders have had more than 25 years to clear out their pre-1989 ban ivory stocks, but are still holding onto them so that they can provide a cover for new ivory to be sold to unsuspecting consumers – many of whom are unaware that in order to get ivory an elephant has to die or be killed. At current levels of poaching, if nothing is done, it is likely that the African elephant may go extinct within our lifetime.

We believe that the ivory traders in Hong Kong are topping up their existing stocks of pre-1989 CITES convention ivory with smuggled ivory from illegally-killed African elephants. These supposed “old stocks” are being used as a vehicle for laundering freshly poached African elephant ivory into the market. And besides those 447 officially licensed holders of ivory ‘License to Possess’, there are also many unlicensed shops operating illegally in Hong Kong – all selling freshly poached ivory with impunity.

With the high demand from the surging numbers of mainland Chinese tourists coming to our city – many of whom have low awareness about the poaching crisis in Africa – we demand to know why the total amount of “legal” ivory in the hands of the trade has barely moved more than just a few kilos in the past three years. According to Hong Kong government statistics, there was 116.5 tonnes in 2011, 118.7 tonnes in 2012, and 117.1 tonnes in 2013 [2]. Our groups are simlpy asking, “why isn’t this stockpile going down?”

It is an open secret that many tourists who come to Hong Kong smuggle ivory products back home. We believe tourists are unwittingly fueling an ivory trade that forms an integral part of the global illegal wildlife trade—the fourth largest type of illegal trafficking after drugs, arms, and human beings.

Hong Kong is not immune from the scourge of Islamic terrorism. Many consumers are unaware that buying an ivory trinket from a store in Mong Kok, Sheung Wan, Tsim Sha Tsui East or North Point, could be financing terrorist groups in Africa such as the Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, or Lord’s Resistance Army. We believe the poachers and traffickers are taking ivory orders from traders in Asia – most likely right here in Hong Kong.

Wildlife crime is not being taken seriously by the Hong Kong government. Fines and penalties for ivory trafficking remain low, as can be seen by the paltry, “slap-on-the-wrist” sentences of six months handed down by a Hong Kong magistrate to 16 Vietnamese ivory traffickers caught red-handed at Hong Kong airport in June. [3]

The unfolding crisis affecting Africa’s iconic wild animals is a cause for concern for all, and Hong Kong does have a role to play as a responsible global player. Each and everyone of us needs to stop buying ivory, and the Hong Kong government needs to do more to raise awareness about this urgent issue.

We call on the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) to step up enforcement efforts and increase licensing patrols and do much more to rein in the excesses of the ivory trade. We also call on Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung and Hong Kong Environment Secretary KS Wong to legislate an ivory trade ban to save the magnificent African elephant without delay – before it is too late.