The trade is still legal in Hong Kong, but traders are wary of photographs.

Following hints last year, Hong Kong has now announced that it will ban all trade in ivory. While the importing and exporting of ivory has been illegal since 1989, the city state often considered the “epicenter” for the trade in illegal ivory will now stop all domestic dealing in the white gold. The move has been warmly greeted by conservationists, who hope that the ban will be another blow to the multimillion dollar trade, which is responsible for an estimated 30,000 elephants killed each year. 

“We will take steps to ban totally the sale of ivory in Hong Kong. It will be a total ban,” said Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the leader of Hong Kong, during his annual policy address. As to when the total ban will come into force, the details are a little hazier. Leung said that they will do it “as quickly as we can,” phasing out the local trade, which will hopefully have knock-on effects to other markets.

The global trade in ivory was banned in 1989, when the numbers of African elephants was found to be crashing as more and more were slaughtered for their tusks. Since then, a highly profitable black market in the product has risen to supply the demand that still persists, with Hong Kong rising as the main hub for the illegal trade. Authorities regularly seize illegal shipments at ports and airports, with just over 8 tonnes (8.8 tons) of the stuff being confiscated in 2013. However, officials continue to turn a blind eye to “legal” traders within the city itself.

The main market for which the ivory is destined is mainland China, which is thought to make up around 70 percent of the demand for the product. While the import and export of ivory is banned, the domestic trade is still flourishing, and despite no ivory officially entering the city, the traders have still managed to retain their stocks at levels similar to when the global trade ban was put in place, even though since then much of the ivory has made its way to mainland China. In 2014 alone, 47 million Chinese tourists visited the city. Because of this, it’s generally assumed that traders are topping up their stores with illegal ivory from recently killed elephants.

Hong Kong is the main hub for the illegal trade of ivory, with tonnes of the stuff being confiscated every year. International Fund for Animal Welfare/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

News of the complete ban has been widely celebrated by conservationists, in the hope Hong Kong will finally kill the killing of elephants and the trade in their tusks. “Hong Kong has always been the epicenter of that trade, so we congratulate CY Leung and the government for this historic step,” says Peter Knight, the CEO of WildAid. “Coupled with a 50 percent drop in ivory prices in China over the last 18 months, the end of the crisis may be in sight.”

It is tentatively hoped that this news will be a massive blow to the trade, effectively closing the primary means by which illegal ivory gets into the legal market, and hopefully saving tens of thousands of elephants in the process.   

Main image: International Fund for Animal Welfare/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Top image in text: Carved elephant tusk on display in the city. Carrie Kellenberger/Flickr CC By 2.0

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