Hong Kong will ban the import and export of ivory, the city’s leader announced on Wednesday, in a “historic” move hailed by animal welfare activists.
Chief executive Leung Chun-ying told lawmakers in his annual policy address that officials were determined to crack down on the trade in Hong Kong.
The southern Chinese city is a major hub of ivory sales and has been criticized by environmentalists for fueling the illegal trade that leads to rampant poaching across Africa.
“The government is very concerned about the illegal poaching of elephants in Africa. It will kick-start legislative procedures as soon as possible to ban the import and export of elephant hunting trophies,” Leung said at the Legislative Council on Wednesday.
He added ministers will “actively explore other appropriate measures” to phase out the local ivory trade.
But he did not specify when the ban would be put in place.
Hong Kong has one of the busiest container terminals and airports in the world and often seizes ivory traded without authorization. Ivory seizures reached a record 8,041 kg in 2013.
The announcement was warmly welcomed by animal welfare activists – but they urged new laws to be implemented as soon as possible.
Alex Hofford from conservation group WildAid told AFP: “We are delighted that the Hong Kong government has finally announced that they will start to phase out the local ivory trade.”
He added: “We’re now urging the chief executive to set a timeline and follow through with concrete action as soon as possible.”
Elephant tusks are used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments with demand high in Asia and the Middle East.
Ivory is also popular with Chinese collectors who see it as a valuable investment.
A report by advocacy group Save the Elephants published in July said Hong Kong’s ivory market is helping push elephants towards extinction.
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