Undercover Video Confirms Hong Kong’s Retail Market Is “Front” for Smuggled Ivory

The Hard Truth report cover

By Laurel Neme and Maraya Cornell

Hong Kong’s retail ivory market acts as both a cover for smuggled ivory and an incentive.

The Hard Truth report cover

A new report, The Hard Truth, released September 7 by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)–Hong Kong, reveals how fundamental flaws in the existing regulatory system help fuel the illegal trade.

Hong Kong prohibited the international trade in elephant ivory in 1990. But domestic trade continued. Licensed dealers were allowed to use and sell their existing private stocks obtained prior to the ban.

(These private stocks are separate from the Hong Kong government’s 29.6-ton stockpile of seized illegal ivory, which is being destroyed in a lengthy process that started in May 2014.)

Seized ivory destroyed by way of incineration right after the launching ceremony on May 15, 2014. Photograph courtesy of Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department.
After a ceremony on May 2014 announcing the Hong Kong government’s intent to destroy its nearly 30-ton stockpile, these seized tusks and ivory pieces were incinerated. Photograph courtesy of Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department

The idea was that these stocks would be exhausted over time. Instead, they’ve remained relatively stable during recent years. According to government figures, in 2011 they amounted to 116.5 metric tons, increasing to 118.7 tons in 2012 and dropping to 117.1 in 2013, and 111.3 in 2014.

This steady state cannot be explained by declining demand because during the same period business has flourished.

According to the 2015 report on Hong Kong’s Ivory by Esmond Martin and Lucy Vigne for the Kenyan NGO Save the Elephants, Hong Kong has more than 400 licensed businesses displaying 30,000-plus ivory items for sale—more than any other city in the world.

This paradox—thriving sales that never diminish the supply—can be explained by flaws in —> Read More