HONGKONG-IVORY/ (PIX, TV):Hong Kong seizes largest ivory haul in 30 years
HONG KONG, July 6 (Reuters) – Authorities in Hong Kong this
week made their largest haul of contraband ivory in more than 30
years, amid surging illegal wildlife seizures fuelled by lax
regulations and buoyant demand from mainland China.
The former British colony situated at the mouth of China’s
Pearl River Delta is one of the world’s top global transit hubs
for endangered species and their products, such as shark fin,
pangolin skin and rosewood furniture.
Customs officials on Thursday said they had seized 7,200 kg
(15,873 lb) of ivory tusks, valued at around HK$72 million
($9.22 million), at a cargo warehouse beside the city’s harbour.
The ivory was discovered in a 40-foot container from
Malaysia declared to hold frozen fish, beneath which officers
found the tusks.
“The 1,000 boxes were half-empty when we found them with
frozen fish put around the ivory,” said customs official Raymond
Conservation group WildAid estimated the tusks had probably
been taken from about 720 elephants.
Hong Kong’s agriculture, fisheries and conservation
department said it was investigating the shipment’s final
destination, probably a nearby country.
A special administrative region of China, Hong Kong has
lagged other places, including the mainland, in adopting tighter
rules against trading of ivory and other endangered species.
Regulatory loopholes allow traders to use a stockpile of
legal ivory as cover to smuggle illegal ivory to unsuspecting
buyers, say groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and WildAid.
China, Singapore and the United States have all banned the
ivory trade, with the mainland closing down all operations by
the end of this year.
Hong Kong, however, has only timetabled a ban by 2021.
Legislators are set to discuss the issue on Friday and decide if
traders should be compensated in the case of a total ban.
The teeming port city has the largest retail market for
ivory, with 90 percent of consumers from the mainland.
Hong Kong has been trading ivory for more than 150 years,
fashioned into jewelry and sculptures, but activists say illegal
poaching is pushing elephants towards extinction.
The independent Environmental Investigation Agency last week
identified Shuidong, a southern Chinese coastal town close to
Hong Kong, as the hub for 10 to 20 Chinese-led criminal
syndicates bringing in ivory from Africa.
African rangers detailed harrowing firsthand tales of
elephant poaching during a June visit to Hong Kong, an event
marked by a tense standoff with traders who say their business
($1=7.8074 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Doris Huang and Farah Master; Editing by Clarence