More than 91,000 Hong Kong people signed a petition urging the government to act faster on banning ivory trade as the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel met yesterday to discuss a proposed ban.
The World Wide Fund had early delivered the petition to lawmakers and officials, and submitted a letter outlining reasons to back the government proposal, which includes a five-year grace period for ivory traders to sell their remaining stock without compensation, and a stronger maximum penalty of 10 years' jail for wildlife crime offenders.
Gavin Edwards, WWF's conservation director in Hong Kong, said ivory traders in the SAR have a reputation for operating illegally, and granting compensation will send the wrong message to society. "With more than 20,000 elephants being killed for their tusks annually and 100 rangers losing their lives every year trying to protect wildlife, it is time to end this brutal trade," Edwards said.
Cheryl Lo, the fund's senior wildlife crime officer, added: "The illegal wildlife trade is a serious crime controlled by organized crime syndicates. Wildlife is trafficked by gangs in the same way that drugs and weapons are smuggled.
"Hong Kong is a favored route for transnational criminal gangs that smuggle wildlife products into Asia. The government must act swiftly to end this situation."
Alex Hofford, Hong Kong campaigner of another organization, WildAid, said: "Legislators must stand with the people of Hong Kong who want to put an end to this shameful trade, not with those who sought to profit from extinction."
Elizabeth Quat, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: "I call on my fellow legislators to put ethics, sustainability, compassion and good sense ahead of cruelty and crime."
To make her point, she held up a gruesome photo of an elephant with its head chopped off for its ivory.