Hong Kong’s lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to ban the trade in ivory, in a move campaigners termed “a lifeline for elephants”.
Ivory sales will be phased out gradually in Hong Kong, stopping completely in 2021.
Prior to the vote, demonstrators gathered outside Hong Kong’s legislature with signs reading: Do you really need ivory chopsticks?
“Shutting down this massive ivory market has thrown a lifeline to elephants,” said Bert Wander of the global advocacy group Avaaz.
Ivory from animal tusks – mostly those of elephants – has been traded in Hong Kong for more than 150 years.
More than 90% of those buying ivory in the territory are from the Chinese mainland, which had hitherto been the world’s largest importer of elephant tusks.
The trade in Hong Kong will cease in three stages.
First, there will be a ban on hunting trophies and ivory from after 1975, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) took effect.
Later, ivory obtained before 1975 will also be included. And finally, traders will be obliged to dispose of their stock by 2021.
Hong Kong lawmaker Elizabeth Quat said the vote marked a great day for elephants, but that the changes must be enforced effectively.
“It’s now up to our law enforcement agencies to ensure the ban is properly implemented,” she said.
Alex Hofford, of the non-governmental organisation WildAid, said: “It’s a great moment in the history of elephant conservation.”
Poaching in Africa has seen elephant numbers fall by 110,000 over the past decade to just 415,000 animals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.