In a monument-us landslide victory on the 31st of January 2018, Hong Kong passed legislation to ban the domestic sale of Ivory within the country. This was a huge moment for animal lovers and activists everywhere, as Hong Kong is home to one of the biggest ivory markets in existence. The legislation was voted on by the Hong Kong legislative council bringing in an astonishing 49 to 4 votes for yes against no. The paperwork and preparation for this vote began in 2016 but took two years to come into legislation. Ivory tradesmen and craft workers have now until the 31st of December 2021 to part ways with their trade and in some cases, livelihood.
You might wonder, why is ivory such a huge commodity and so important in Hong Kong? There is a lot of history to this material and it is seethed in Chinese tradition.
Ivory trade and crafting ivory has been around in China for thousands of years. The crafting of ivory is an intricate skill that has been passed on through generations. The detail and workmanship that goes into each piece is truly remarkable and takes a lot of time and focus. Carved ivory in China dates back as far as 11th – 16th century BC when a piece was found in the tombs of the Shang Dynasty Kings. This promptly established the art as part of Chinese culture and tradition.
In the 11th – 3rd century BC carving ivory was classed as it’s own special art form with skilled craftsmen carving objects from hair clips to ornaments. It is said that at this time elephants lived and roamed about the land of China, this is where the ivory came from. Through different periods and dynasties within China you can see the different stages of this art form. From the original carvings made in the ivory only keeping the natural color of the piece, through to paint being introduced in latter years to help make the designs and crafts stand out more and incorporate even more detail.
In the more recent years of this trade, ivory has been imported as there aren’t enough elephants present and living in China. The ivory is imported from all over Africa, with no part being left untouched. This has caused serious implications to the number of elephants in the continent and to illegal poaching becoming ripe within Africa.
There are two main breeds of elephants in Africa, the African Bush elephant and the smaller African Forest elephant. Both males and females in both breeds of elephants have tusks. These tusks are part of the animals anatomy and are designed to help them with every day tasks such as foraging for food and when they get in to danger. These tusks are made from the sought after ivory. These are what poachers are illegally killing these beautiful animals for.
The poachers will typically hunt at night when it’s dark so that they cant be seen and then once they spot an elephant, they shoot it from a distance. In some cases the body is just disregarded and the poacher will remove the tusks to then sell on. It’s a disgusting practice. Poachers are also taking to digging up and excavating land to find the fossils of mammoth elephants that have become extinct, as they too had tusks, that the poachers will dig up to then sell on.
Although Africa is the most predominant content in which the ivory comes from, ivory also comes from India and other asian countries such as Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. In these countries it is thought that some elephants are born into captivity where they spend most of their life until they are then killed or used for other purposes.
The ban on international ivory trade was introduced in 1989. This prevented all trade of ivory from country to country. However the issue after this was introduced was that in Hong Kong alone, there was over 670 tonnes of ivory stock still present in the country that had already been stored previous to the legislation passing. This meant that the rules had to be altered slightly to allow traders and craftsmen to work with and use the stock they already had, but not to occur anymore ivory.
A lot of loop holes were exploited in the legislation with regards to ivory that was owned before the passing of the legislation.
In 2017, mainland China introduced their ban on ivory trade. This was another huge victory for activist all over the World as China was one of the biggest transit points for ivory. Over the last five years with all the controversy surrounding the trade and crafting of ivory, the price has dropped dramatically. In 2013 – 2014, one kg of ivory had a value of $2100. This dwindled to just above $1000 in 2016- 2017, and now today in Hong Kong one kg of ivory has a value of around $700.
So anyone who has a stock of ivory or is crafting ivory in Hong Kong has now got until the 31st of December 2021 to get rid of their stock. After this point, if anyone is found to trade ivory the implications and penalties they could face are quite severe with fines of up to $1.3million and up to 10 years prison time. One of the largest ivory seizes happened last year when the authorities seized 7.2 tonnes of ivory tusks.
Not everyone is happy with the legislation as some people in Hong Kong have built their livelihood from this industry and now feel that they should be compensated, as they claim that they are being robbed. In the Chinese app, WeChat, similar to WhatsApp, groups for illegal ivory trade have been popping up. There may be a huge crime wave to come of people continuing to craft and trade ivory, but illegally. However, this is still a historic victory for animals rights groups, and hopefully the elephant population can continue to grow without being harmed.