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Law enforcement officials in Hong Kong have placed a ban on sales of ivory. Environmentalists close to the matter say that the move will go along way to help put an end to elephant poaching in the country.

The Hong Kong Legislative Council voted 49-4 in favor of the new bill. The bill will officially go into effect in 2021 and will combat 150-years of legalized ivory trading in the territory. Following the three-year period, all sales of ivory in Hong Kong will become illegal. This new policy will shut down previous loopholes that allowed the sale of ‘antique’ ivory in the territory as long as it was produced prior to the 1970s.

Alex Hofford, of the group WildAid, says that Hong Kong has for a long time been ground zero for the ivory trade.

Hong Kong is an administrative region of China that governs itself. The region, for the most part, has followed the policies outlined by the International Trade of Endangered Species Convention. The convention banned the trade of ivory across the globe in 1990. The convention terms make an exception for trophies earned while hunting and antique ivory. Countries were given the responsibility to regulate the trade of these items on their own.

Environmentalists have always lamented that countries allowing ‘pre-convention’ ivory trading are effectively aiding poachers. This is due to the fact that illegal ivory obtained by poaching is often passed off as antiques.

Environmentalists also say that closing global markets for ivory have caused Hong Kong to become a target for individuals that are interested in certain products they can find nowhere else.

A major news organization has previously reported that 90 percent of ivory buyers in Hong Kong travel to the territory from mainland China.

Activists have expressed discontent at the long grace period that has been given to ivory traders.

Philip Muruthi, an African Wildlife Foundation chief scientist, says that judgments such as the one made by Hong Kong legislators often result in traders stockpiling the soon to be banned item. Muruthi presumes it likely that poachers and traders will work overtime to make as much money as possible on ivory products ahead of the deadline.

China shut down its own trade in domestic ivory a little over a year ago. However, the country remains one of the largest markets for the product in the world. WildAid notes that since the ban was announced in China, 80 percent fewer instances of ivory seizures have taken place at Chinese borders. The price of legal ivory in Hong Kong fell by more than 65 percent since the Chinese ban.

The announced ban in China was hailed by WildAid as the ‘greatest’ single move made so far in the fight against the poaching of elephants.