'All I see are dead elephants': Kenyan Maasai march on the heart of Hong Kong's retail ivory trade, demanding it end now
Tribesman and conservationists say legislation would send right message to regional markets
As Daniel Ole Sambu, a Maasai tribesman from Kenya, walked through the heart of the city's ivory trade in Sheung Wan yesterday, all he could see were pools of blood and elephants with their faces sawn off.
"It's horrible because all I see are dead elephants," the 42-year-old conservationist said as he led a march along Hollywood Road and nearby streets, calling on the government to ban the domestic ivory trade.
"We see these things in movies and documentaries," he said, pointing to the shiny shopfronts with ivory displays, "and we don't believe it, but here we are now and we have seen it with our own eyes."You don't find this in our shops in Kenya, but somebody here is proud to have pieces of ivory from dead elephants in their shop. It's so bad."
Since 2009, Ole Sambu has fought on the front lines to tackle illegal poachers for the Big Life Foundation. "We use community rangers to go out and arrest those who poach or those who are intending to poach," he said, "and tell them to stop."
But the fight can only go so far, he said, when the demand for ivory continues. "Since I am involved in protecting live elephants, I find that I am losing a battle if there is a market for ivory. We all believe that if there is no market for ivory, elephants won't die. So we say if we can deal with the end market, we will be able to protect our elephants."
Ole Sambu said that a ban in Hong Kong on ivory sales would send the right message to regional markets. "Hong Kong is considered a transit market for ivory so we are telling Hong Kong that even the end market will have to find somewhere else if they ban it. So it has to start with Hong Kong saying that we don't want anything related to ivory."
Several dozen supporters joined the march yesterday, chanting: "Say no to ivory".
Leading the march was Jamie Gaymer, 36, a second-generation Kenyan who heads up a 185-person team to protect rhinos at the Ol Jogi conservancy in Kenya.
"People are dying, elephants are dying," Gaymer said to one ivory shopkeeper yesterday. "When I see the shops, it upsets me because typically, what I see is the elephant with his face cut off.
"The price of ivory and rhino horn has escalated dramatically over the last five years and the knock-on effect is that we have more and more poachers shooting these animals," he said.
"Illegal trade and wildlife products are essentially linked and one way or another, there are links to terrorism," Gaymer said, referring to reports that militant groups such as al-Shabab in Somalia get funds from ivory sales.
"There is a war going on out there and ultimately we need to reduce consumer demand."
Shops in Hong Kong can legally sell ivory if they have a licence but buyers cannot take the items out of the city.
A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it welcomed the campaign. "The government is open-minded on the ban on domestic trade in ivory," he said.
"We will continue to monitor the latest international developments and any recent development in mainland China very closely in respect of the control of ivory and the views of various stakeholders, and will update our strategy and measures … as and when necessary."