Thu, Sep 07, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Ranger testifies on ivory in HK hearing

AFP, HONG KONG

A Kenyan park ranger who said his closest friend was shot dead while protecting elephants yesterday urged Hong Kong not to compensate the territory’s ivory traders in an emotive speech to lawmakers.

Hong Kong is a major hub for ivory sales and last year announced that it would introduce a total ban on the trade.

However, authorities later clarified they would only completely abolish the trade by 2021, drawing criticism they were dragging their feet and trailing China, where officials last year pledged to halt the enterprise by the end of this year.

Angry Hong Kong ivory traders are demanding the government compensate them for their stock, a move opponents say would fuel the illicit business and encourage stockpiling.

The trade is still flourishing in Hong Kong, where in July more than 7 tonnes of tusks worth more than US$9 million were seized in the biggest ivory bust in three decades.

During a public hearing at the Legislative Council over the ivory ban bill, ranger Chris Leadismo, the head of wildlife security at the non-governmental organization Save the Elephants in northern Kenya, said he and his colleagues put their lives on the line to protect elephants.

“I still recall the death of my very closest friend Joseph, who was shot dead while in the line of duty in June this year. There is still pain in my heart,” Leadismo said.

He told how he left his wife and sons for long periods of time as part of his work to protect the elephants in his area.

“I know it breaks her heart, but I still go because if no one keeps the peace in our landscape, eventually, we will all be victims of poachers, one way or another,” he said.

The WWF says more than 20,000 African elephants die every year to feed the ivory trade in Asia and Hong Kong.

WWF wildlife law enforcement officer Crispian Barlow told the hearing that the violence around the trade was escalating.

“I had a ranger who was drowned, another was set on fire while he was asleep,” Barlow said.

However, traders said they had been forced to sell off their remaining stock for the past 27 years, following an international ban in 1989.

The ban came after African elephant populations dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to about 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

“We are the victims... We have put all our capital into this industry,” ivory seller Chu Chun-pong told the hearing.

However, Leadismo said compensation would only fuel the business.

“I will lose more comrades, or even my life as a wildlife ranger,” he said.

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