SAR finally to shed shameful role as center of ivory trade

Updated: 2016-01-15 09:24

By Peter Liang(HK Edition)

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Environmentalists and animal rights advocates can claim victory in the long battle to persuade the government to ban the trade of ivory, which has led to the killing of large numbers of African elephants every year.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his Policy Address at the Legislative Council on Wednesday that the government would legislate against such trade, which has tarnished Hong Kong's reputation internationally. Indeed, Hong Kong has won the dubious title as the center of trade in ivory and other products obtained by slaughtering endangered species, including tigers, rhinoceroses, sea horses and owls.

Most of these products are prized in traditional herbal medicine for their unproven value as remedies for treating various illnesses and deficiencies. But the vast majority of people in Hong Kong are not going to object to a straight ban even in today's politically charged environment. It is unthinkable that anyone in this cosmopolitan city still believes that eating owls can improve their eyesight.

Of course, traders in these products are going to seek compensation for business lost. Some ivory merchants have reportedly complained that a ban could drive them into "extinction". They argue that most of the goods in their shops were carved from ivory which they bought 20 years ago. Some of these, they claim, are carved from the tusks of a mammoths, a long extinct species, not elephants.

Such arguments seem hard to believe. Any shop that has had its capital tied up in valuable stocks for 20 years would have gone "extinct" already.

It was suggested that instead of monetary compensation, which would be hard to compute, the law could be structured to include a grace period of, say, six months, to allow merchants of endangered species to unload their stocks. But let's face it, these traders should have seen the writing on the wall years ago.

As a developed economy, Hong Kong has an obligation to contribute to the global efforts in wildlife preservation. It is hoped that a sales ban can kill demand so endangered species can survive.

(HK Edition 01/15/2016 page7)