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Huge Victory for Elephants: Hong Kong Bans Ivory Trade

Animals

Following a major anti-ivory campaign by World Wildlife Fund (WWF)—Hong Kong, the city's chief executive, C Y Leung, announced today that the government is actively exploring phasing out the domestic ivory trade.

The government is also set to strengthen efforts to tackle the illegal ivory trade.

Seized ivory in Hong Kong. Last year a WWF-Hong Kong report revealed fundamental flaws in the regulations governing the domestic ivory trade, which allowed traders to launder illegal ivory from Africa—contributing directly to the elephant poaching crisis. Photo credit: WWF-Hong Kong / Lam Chun Yuen

Every year around 30,000 elephants are killed in Africa for their tusks, primarily to satisfy the demand for ivory products in Asia. Hong Kong is a key part of this trade as a major transit and retail hub, with a study last year revealing that there were more ivory items for sale in Hong Kong than in any other city in the world.

“The chief executive's decision represents a significant step toward the end of Hong Kong's ivory trade and a major milestone for elephant conservation," Gavin Edwards, conservation director of WWF-Hong Kong, said. “It is no longer a question of if a ban is needed—we can focus on when and how to end Hong Kong's ivory trade."

Giving his annual policy address, Leung stressed that Hong Kong is very concerned about the poaching of elephants in Africa and stated that the government will consider “appropriate measures, such as enacting legislation to further ban the import and export of ivory and phase out the local ivory trade."

Hong Kong said it will also impose heavier penalties for smuggling and the illegal trade in endangered species.

“The government must rapidly implement this decision and develop a concrete timeline to phase out the ivory trade because there is no time to waste," Edwards added.

Last year, WWF-Hong Kong launched its campaign to end the ivory trade in concert with other conservation organizations, legislators and with wide public support. In early September, WWF-Hong Kong released a report that revealed fundamental flaws in the regulations governing the domestic ivory trade, which allowed traders to launder illegal ivory from Africa—contributing directly to the elephant poaching crisis.

Hong Kong is a major hub of ivory sales and has been criticized by environmentalists for fueling the illegal trade that leads to rampant poaching across Africa. Photo credit: Alex Hofford / WildAid

Yesterday, WWF handed in a petition to ban the trade signed by tens of thousands of Hong Kongers. The city's lawmaking body, the Legislative Council, also passed a motion in December calling for the government to explore further restrictions on the ivory trade, so as to ultimately achieve a total ban on the trade.

“The Hong Kong government has listened to the voices of the city's people and politicians who have been clearly calling for a ban," Cheryl Lo, senior wildlife crime officer of WWF-Hong Kong, said. “Hong Kong can now play a leadership role and strike a major blow against the global illegal ivory trade and wildlife crime."

The decision follows the announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama in September 2015 that they would take significant and timely steps to halt their domestic commercial ivory trades.

It also comes as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna Standing Committee is meeting in Geneva—with ivory trafficking and elephant poaching high on the agenda. Yesterday, the European Union tabled recommendations in relation to National Ivory Action Plans, including calling on Hong Kong to provide further information on its registration system for ivory and the implementation and enforcement of regulations for domestic ivory trade.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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