Hong Kong will be phasing out its trade in ivory, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Wednesday in his 2016 Policy Address. The Asian autonomous territory has not established a timeline for the ban, but Leung told reporters it would happen “expeditiously, as quickly as we can.” However, the politician said the prohibition will “require legislative amendments.”
The brisk international trade in ivory has decimated Africa’s big mammal population, which has dropped by at least 58 percent in the last 40 years. More than 10,000 elephants are still killed by poachers annually.
Though the import and export of ivory is banned in Hong Kong, around 400 sellers are licensed to trade in ivory material created before a 1989 international trade moratorium. Activists argue that this loophole allows illegal sellers and poachers to operate in the margins of the Hong Kong market.
Hong Kong’s announcement follows the lead of its neighbor, China, the world’s largest consumer of illegal ivory. In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping joined President Barack Obama in pledging to combat the ivory trade. Both countries will ban the import and export of ivory into their countries and will take steps to halt the domestic trade in both nations.
Partially as a consequence of the China-U.S. agreement, the price of illegal ivory in the Asian country has dropped by 50 percent in the last year and a half.
“Hong Kong can’t not ban ivory if the U.S. and China are going to,” Alex Hofford, with the wildlife welfare nonprofit WildAid, told National Geographic. “If Hong Kong doesn’t shut the door, then it’s all for nothing.”