Patrick Boehler, South China Morning Post
12 February, 2014
A shop assistant is filmed telling an undercover reporter how to take ivory out of Hong Kong.
Employees at two established craft stores in Hong Kong advised undercover reporters on how to
illegally smuggle ivory across borders, according to a British news report.
Raw video footage shared with the South China Morning Post shows employees of Chinese Arts
and Crafts in Admiralty and Yue Hwa on Nathan Road telling the British TV reporters, who posed
as customers, how to avoid customs when smuggling ivory across borders.
Ivory is “easy to take out, even if you go through the metal [detector], there’s no sign. You [just]
hide it somewhere”, one elderly salesman at Yue Hwa told the reporters from broadcaster ITN.
“Still, according to the book, it is illegal.”
While the undeclared import and export of ivory is illegal in Hong Kong, trade remains legal and
registered dealers can export ivory dating to before a global ban was imposed in 1989.
Selling ivory to customers who plan to illegally take it abroad goes against company policy, an
employee of Chinese Arts and Crafts (HK) Limited told the Post in a reaction to the report. Sales
staff were instructed to inform customers that they could not export ivory, the company said in
The chain of four stores is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed China Resources Enterprise, which
takes “all accountable and practicable measures to minimise the impacts that our business
operations may have on the environment” according to its latest corporate social responsibility
An employee of Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium Limited, who declined to be identified,
said the company would investigate the report. He stressed that the company has instructed its
employees not to sell to customers who intend to take ivory abroad.
The company’s invoices include a warning that ivory “usually cannot be brought into and out of
Hong Kong”, he said. The chain operates 18 stores in Hong Kong and 3 in Singapore, according
to its website.
Activists say the city has become a key transit point for the illicit trade from Africa to China.
By the end of last year, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department held 29.6 tonnes
of seized ivory stemming from more than 10,000 elephants. It plans to destroy the majority of
its stockpile in the near future in an effort to dissuade future trade.
The value of 1kg of ivory ranges from HK$8,000 to HK$15,000.
A senior sales consultant at Chinese Arts and Crafts told the ITN reporters about a customer
who bought two dozen chopsticks made of ivory and smuggled them to Singapore, hidden
among four dozen plastic chopsticks. “Two or three weeks later, she came back and wanted to
buy more,” he said, in the video footage dated from Monday.
Reporters were also shown an apple-shaped piece of ivory painted in red, which, he pointed out,
could pass customs. “You just […] go to customs, nobody knows this is ivory, they think this is
just plastic,” he said.
The salesperson also spoke of customers smuggling ivory in socks to North America, and about
how others avoid checks on the mainland side of the Shenzhen border by leveraging their
contacts at customs there. “[It] depends on the class of your friends,” the salesman said.
Referring to “blood ivory” chopsticks, made from tusks from freshly killed elephants, he was
candid about the questionable ethics of his trade. “You will think this is very cruel,” he said, “but
when you use it, [you will see that] this has much more value.” The chopsticks’ quality was
superior to those made of tusks taken from elephants that have been dead for some time, he
On Wednesday, sales staff at Chinese Arts and Crafts were hesitant to sell ivory. “If you want to
export it, you can choose a mammoth,” a salesperson told the Post, referring to a poster of the
mammoth that can be seen inside the shop. “No matter how small, it is still illegal to bring ivory
across the border,” she said.
A spokesperson for Chinese Arts and Crafts (HK) Ltd. told the Post: “As many customers may ask
about the export of ivory and we would definitely insist that ‘no import or export is allowed and
all transactions must be carried out in compliance with applicable laws’.
“In view of the above, Chinese Arts & Crafts (H.K.) Ltd. will look into the case and would remind
our sales force of the company policy and strengthen training and monitoring in order to
prevent causing misunderstanding to our honourable customers when selling ivory carving and
Mammoth carving products.”
In a joint statement, two Hong Kong conservation groups – the ACE Foundation and WildLifeRisk
– said the video clips show that businesses in the city are actively undermining conservation
efforts for commercial gain.
“The surfaced footage shows sales staff heavily promoting ‘blood ivory’ products,” the
statement read. The groups call on the SAR government to enact a permanent ban on ivory
The global ban on ivory trade has been suspended just twice so far in one-off sales, in 1999
and 2008. These have spurred demand for ivory among affluent Chinese, a group of 22 wildlife
advocacy groups said in a statement on Tuesday, calling for a comprehensive ban on the trade.
On Tuesday, the US revised its regulations on ivory, allowing ownership and gift giving, but
banning commercial sales.
Delegates from 50 countries have gathered in London for a conference this week to discuss
ways to stop the poaching of endangered animals.
African forest elephants could go extinct within a decade, according to study by 60 scientists
released last year. Over the past 10 years, the population has decreased by 62 per cent, the
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