2013 11 15 Us Elephant Ivory Crush 02
Image: United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Think Hong Kong should implement an outright ban on the sale of all ivory products? Then have your say in this poll, which is being run today by Hong Kong English-language newspaper South China Morning Post. 

The poll follows a year of tragic news about Africa's elephant populations, which are being decimated by poachers to meet demand for ivory coming mostly from China (estimates suggest the country accounts for up to 70 percent of global demand). In August, a study revealed that a staggering 100,000 of the animals had fallen victim to poaching across Africa between 2010 and 2012. The continent's populations have fallen from more than 1.3 million in 1979 to a low of perhaps only 419,000 today.

More recently, a report by the Save the Elephants and The Aspinall Foundation warned that the illegal ivory trade is "exploding" in China as the growing legal ivory trade acts as a smokescreen for illicit activity. "China holds the key to the future of elephants – without China’s leadership in ending demand for ivory Africa’s elephants could disappear from the wild within a generation,” warned Save the Elephants founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton at the time. 

Hong Kong is seen by conservationists as a hotspot for ivory sales, with around 447 licensed ivory retailers in the region. Trade in ivory was banned in 1989 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but the ban does not apply to products imported before 1989 (or to ivory from one-off legal sales of African ivory stockpiles). Activists say such legal sales mask a burgeoning illicit trade, allowing criminals to launder ivory from poached elephants.

In response to growing pressure from conservation groups, several major Hong Kong retailers pulled ivory products from their shelves last year. Hong Kong officials have also been taking steps to combat illegal trade, such as launching a major operation in May to destroy 30 tonnes of ivory seized from smugglers.

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Bring on the ban: 97 percent of poll respondents have voted in favour so far. Screenshot, South China Morning Post.

But many experts believe that is not enough. Effectively regulating a legal ivory trade is not possible, they say, arguing that only a complete ban on ivory sales and the destruction of all ivory stockpiles will work to stem the elephant poaching crisis. 

So far, the Post's poll results reflect overwhelming support for a ban, with 93 percent of respondents voting in favour.