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The mismatch in timing of the two bans in China and Hong Kong could encourage elephant poaching in Africa

According to a research, the shutdown of China’s domestic ivory market last year may be shifting more of the trade across the border to Hong Kong where a citywide ban is come into effect in three years.

Researchers suggested that the mismatch in timing of the two bans (Beijing in 2017 and Hong Kong in 2021) may be inadvertently widening the window for illegal trading and smuggling, fuelling the poaching of elephants in Africa.

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There were three arrested after Hong Kong customs seizes 7.2 tonnes of ivory from ‘frozen fish’ container in record HK$72 million bust last year, it was the largest amount seized in a year, and none in the mainland since the ban. Less than a tonne was seized in 2016.

Mainland China, which shut down its legal ivory trade in 2017, is the world’s largest consumer of ivory. Because of Hong Kong’s close proximity to China, and the existence of its own booming legal market, it too has emerged as a key driver of the poaching crisis.

Dr Luke Gibson, a biologist of Hong Kong University, admitted that the data of a year may not confirm a long-term trend but there was more than enough evidence to suggest an inverse correlation between seizures of elephant ivory in China and Hong Kong.

Over the past two decades, when there was more ivory confiscated in China, there was less confiscated in Hong Kong … and vice versa,” he added. “The closure of China’s market might push the trade to Hong Kong.”

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Co-author Alex Hofford of WildAid Hong Kong said :

“Ivory traders everywhere will always do whatever they can evade detection by law enforcement, it’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole. If it closes down over here, up it pops over there. The Hong Kong authorities need to be ever vigilant to their tricks. We encourage the Hong Kong government to look into finding new and innovative ways to further restrict the domestic Hong Kong ivory trade ahead of the full ban … which is over three long years away”.

According to activists, illegal ivory often makes its way into Hong Kong, gets mixed in with legal stocks to evade detection and then smuggled to China.

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Poaching has driven a huge decline in African savannah elephants with almost a third (30%) wiped out between 2007 and 2014, and the population goes down by about 8%  every year. The tusks of 87 animals, which were counted during aerial surveys over the past few months in Botswana, had been chopped off — evidence of what conservationists are calling one of the biggest slaughters in recent years.

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