Hong Kong is the world’s largest retail market for ivory, and buying ivory there is still legal. Because Hong Kong has not ratified the Convention on International trading in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits the trading of ivory, this is the case.
The ivory trade in Hong Kong is a relic of the city’s colonial past. There was a robust commerce in ivory from Africa when the British colony was created in 1841. This continued after Hong Kong joined China in 1997.
The Chinese have a long history of sculpting with ivory. Many pieces of ivory are artistically carved with motifs from Chinese history or mythology as a status symbol.
The demand for ivory in Hong Kong drives the illegal ivory trade, which contributes to the extinction of African elephants. Each year, an estimated 20,000 elephants are murdered for their ivory.
The Hong Kong government has been pressed to prohibit the trade in ivory, but it has so far refused. Concerns have been raised that a ban would be impossible to enforce and would affect the city’s economy.
The future of the ivory trade in Hong Kong is uncertain, but the demand for ivory is clearly having a disastrous impact on African elephants.