Image: John Cummings, Wikimedia Commons

A team of undercover buyers recently uncovered the magnitude of corruption within the ‘legal’ ivory trade in Hong Kong.

While selling ivory obtained before 1990 is technically still legal in Hong Kong, sellers are required to obtain and display shop licenses to buyers. In addition, buyers are required to gather permits allowing the export of purchased ivory out of Hong Kong and the import of the products into their home countries.

The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network known as TRAFFIC sent undercover researchers posing as tourists to assess ivory dealing in Hong Kong during the months of August and December in 2015. Hong Kong is one of the few remaining ivory trade hotspots in the world.

Of 131 presumed “legal” ivory dealers in Hong Kong, only 30% of shops made an effort to visibly display their selling permits, or even claim they possessed one. Additionally, one third of ivory traders spurred buyers to transport ivory illegally to mainland China, and provided helpful tips on how to accomplish undetected transport.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Many of the items for sale include trinkets, jewelry, and displays of worked ivory. For larger items, ivory shopkeepers suggested paid transport to Shenzhen.

The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) ban on ivory trade prohibits all except domestic trade of pre-1990 ivory throughout Hong Kong, but the regulations are obviously not being taken seriously.

“Insufficient compliance by the city’s licensed traders highlights major shortcomings with Hong Kong’s current regulation of the local ivory trade,” Wilson Lau, a Program Officer with TRAFFIC and a co-author of the latest report, said in a statement.

Although the city is proposing heavier penalties, increased enforcement policies are needed to ensure efficacy.