The environment undersecretary has stood by the government’s official stance that no compensation will be given to ivory traders when the ivory ban is implemented.
Undersecretary Tse Chin-wan said at a Legislative Council hearing on Wednesday that the proposed ban in five years will not violate the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution. After receiving legal advice, he also said it would not violate the Bill of Rights: “In fact, the banning order will not confiscate or requisite assets,” he said.
“Hong Kong is not the first place to implement a total ban. We have not found any country where compensation is given.”
Tse said the ivory trade caused elephants to be hunted and was behind other illegal activity because ivory has commercial value.
“If we give compensation, it means the government pays for the ivory – it will lead to rumours internationally that the Hong Kong government purchases ivory – it will cause smuggling,” he said. “Earlier, we just busted a large-scale smuggling operation.”
Hong Kong Customs seized 7.2 tonnes of ivory tusks from a container arriving from Malaysia in June.
“It will also cause more hunting of elephants and the deaths of those who protect elephants,” Tse added.
There has been a partial ivory ban in Hong Kong since 1990, following the implementation of the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The latest three-step process for the total ban will first halt the import and re-export of all elephant hunting trophies and any remaining post-Convention ivory items. Pre-Convention ivory for commercial purposes will be next, and finally the possession of all ivory for commercial purposes will be banned by the end of 2021.
“After 27 years, as an international city, we need to make contributions in this field, it is time to implement a total ban,” Tse said.
“We have given 27 years to the industry to prepare… It is the best way to give a bit of buffer time,” he said. “Some workers may have to switch to other industries. We will look into how to make arrangements for training.”
Tse added that the proposed ban listed exemptions for antique ivory and art pieces.
Barlow Crispian, a ranger in Africa for 17 years, appeared at the hearing to describe an “ongoing violence” of the ivory trade.
“I left Hong Kong in 1990 and went to South Africa and became a ranger. By then, I was at the frontline of wildlife wars… I survived nine shooting incidents, I have been shot by poachers,” he said.
“In early 2006, I got an award as a top enforcement ranger for the whole continent of Africa. Five months later, the team that came second place, an anti-poaching team from Uganda, were ambushed by poachers – three of them were shot, two killed, one seriously wounded. Five months after that, I was shot.”
“I had one of my field rangers who was drowned, another one was set on fire while he was asleep,” he added. “[M]y good friend, ranger colleague Wayne Lotter was ambushed in Tanzania, shot and killed, shot in the head.”
“If the Hong Kong government provides compensation to ivory traders, the message to the poachers is that Hong Kong is buying ivory – that’s going to increase the poaching.”
So Chi-keung, president of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ivory Manufacturers Association, said at the hearing that the government was “unfair” to them. He said the ivory stockpile in Hong Kong had decreased from 777 tons in 1989 to 77 tons now.
“The remaining ones are generally small material, broken pieces or large pieces that we cannot sell. You have been smearing us for inserting illegal materials…” he said.
“I am sad for the rangers… But let’s say I am a legally licenced gold dealer, I know gold is valuable, I hire guards to protect it. One day unfortunately someone comes to rob it, the guards do their jobs and are killed – you should ask who killed them, and who robbed them – you should not blame the licenced gold dealers for selling.”
A group of 27 activists gathered in front of the Legislative Council on Tuesday urging lawmakers to support the ban.