City Weekend

Educating Hong Kong youth key to stopping ivory trade, elephant charity says

Tour of local schools featuring those who see illegal poaching and its effects up close in Africa could help reduce demand endangering the species

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2018, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2018, 4:02pm

A Hong Kong-based charity says educating the city’s youth could be key to reducing demand for ivory from endangered African elephants.

Even though Kenya is more than 8,000km away, conservation group The Elephant Foundation (TEF) is gearing up for a tour of Hong Kong schools.

“Seventy per cent of people we talk to don’t understand that an elephant has to die for people to get its ivory,” TEF’s co-founder Colin Dawson says. “The minute people understand the elephant has to die, they don’t want anything to do with it.”

TEF has found that children are particularly good at conveying this message, Dawson claims, describing young people as “a conduit for enthusiasm about keeping these animals alive”.

The charity is preparing for its annual Hong Kong Elephant Week, which this year entails a tour of 14 local schools to promote awareness about the cost of the ivory trade to Africa’s wildlife.

TEF will be joined by Daniel Ole Sambu, a Maasai tribesman who works with the Big Life Foundation, which helps to coordinate cross-border anti-poaching operations in East Africa. James Mwenda, a rhino carer at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a non-profit based in Kenya, will also take part.

Drawing on their compelling personal experiences, Ole Sambu and Mwenda spark a sense of responsibility for the endangered animals when they speak.

Dawson, 48, says Hong Kong’s relationship with the animals is especially important given the city’s traditional role as a global hub for the hunted commodity.

“The ivory trade is still alive and well in Hong Kong,” Dawson laments. “Traders have been given leeway that’s allowed them to continue trading.”

The ivory trade is still alive and well in Hong Kong
Colin Dawson, The Elephant Foundation

Unlike in mainland China, where the sale of ivory is banned outright, Hong Kong is implementing its ban in phases. The Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants (Amendment) Ordinance was introduced in May this year by the government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. But according to the three-step plan, the commercial possession of all ivory will not be made illegal until December 31, 2021.

TEF’s campaign comes hot on the heels of a report by conservation researchers that found this delay is leading directly to an acceleration in the poaching of African elephants. The paper was published in August by the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, and found that seizures of ivory by Hong Kong authorities had risen dramatically since the mainland ban was introduced. It suggested poachers were exploiting the delay as a business opportunity.

Luke Gibson, associate professor of conservation science at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen and one of the report’s authors, believes that tackling elephant poaching requires addressing both supply and demand.

Delay on ban of ivory in Hong Kong may encourage poaching, study shows

“Demand reductions are very important for elephant conservation,” he says. “But reductions in demand alone cannot solve the problem.”

Gibson advocates a dual-pronged approach: protecting elephants in their habitat while reducing the appetite for ivory in markets in Asia.

TEF is keen to note it stays active on the first point, stressing it has raised more than HK$4 million (US$510,000) for conservation projects and charities including The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an orphan elephant rescue programme, and the Big Life Foundation.

“The bottom line is that up to 40,000 elephants are killed every year across Africa,” Gibson says. “Much of that trade is moving through Hong Kong, considered to be the global epicentre of wildlife trade.”