news.nationalgeographi: Good News for Elephants: Major Ivory Market Will Close
Hong Kong's impending shutdown of legal ivory sales likely means less poaching of elephants for their tusks.
It’s official: Hong Kong—a major market for elephant ivory—will end sales of the “white gold” by the end of 2021.
Lawmakers gave the go-ahead on January 31 to a four-year plan that would phase out the city-state’s legal retail market, which conservationists and advocates say helps fuel the slaughter of more than 30,000 African elephants annually by serving as a cover for ivory traded on the black market. Approval of the measure, which the Associated Press reported passed by a vote of 49-4, comes more than two years after Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying promised to shut down the ivory trade, and more than a year after the government submitted a plan for ending sales.
In addition to shutting down the ivory market, the plan also includes harsher penalties for smugglers: Under the new law the maximum prison sentence will increase from two years to 10, and the fine will double to $1.3 million.
Conservationists applauded the news but expressed reservations about the long timetable for closing ivory shops.
“Every positive step to us concerning elephants is good news,” says Philip Muruthi, vice president of species protection for the Nairobi-based African Wildlife Foundation. “But the urgency of the issue as it pertains to elephants hasn’t been taken seriously here.”
Indeed, elephants are being killed at unsustainable rates for their tusks, which are carved into everything from artwork to chopsticks and sold—illegally—across borders, although countries are free to allow domestic sales. Only an estimated 350,000 African elephants remain, a drop from about 490,000 a decade ago—with poaching the main culprit for the ongoing decline.