SAR continues to play major role in illegal ivory trade, says watchdog

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2000, 12:00am

Hong Kong still plays a substantial role in the illegal ivory trade, a London-based environmental group claimed yesterday.

Under Hong Kong law, individuals who possess 5kg ivory or more must register with authorities. Ivory imports and exports are prohibited, including trade with the mainland. It is illegal to sell ivory goods to non-residents.

'A substantial retail trade in ivory still exists, and targets the tourist trade,' the Environmental Investigation Agency said in its report entitled Lethal Experiment.

More than 80 per cent of all raw ivory traded comes from poached African elephants, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.

One craft shop admitted selling ivory to tourists and another told the group's undercover investigators it regularly sold ivory to an American client. A third offered to label large ivory carvings as bone to ease export.

Two mainland shops boasted they could move ivory across the SAR border.

Another Hong Kong-based store said it obtained ivory figures from the mainland and a company said it had a secret carving factory in southern China.

A year before the international ivory trade ban in 1990, the agency called Hong Kong 'the world marketplace for illegal ivory'.

However, companies involved in ivory sales and manufacturing have dwindled from 264 in a 1989 phone book to 43 now.

'Hong Kong has lots of ivory left from pre-ban time, and they try to sell it to tourists,' investigator Julian Newman said. 'There is a lot of control from Hong Kong on ivory businesses in China, where marketing and manufacturing flourish.' Next week, delegates of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will meet in Nairobi, Kenya, to debate a relaxation of ivory sales. Environmentalists warn it could spell new danger to the African elephant population.