HONG KONG, April 14 (UPI) -- Wildlife protection groups on Monday petitioned the Hong Kong government to stop the illegal ivory trade that continues despite a ban on poached ivory, stating current laws "aid and abet" a business that links poached ivory to factories in China.
The letter, addressed to Hong Kong's environment secretary Wong Kam-sing, was signed by 51 non-governmental organizations including the World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong and the Jane Goodall Institute, according to The South China Morning Post.
The organizations pointed out the issuance of import and re-export licenses for pre-convention ivory were facilitating the laundering of recently poached ivory into the legal market.
Pre-convention ivory refers to elephant tusks that were on market prior to 1975, when an international ban on ivory first emerged.
Since then, European countries that include Britain, Germany and France have banned the re-export of all raw ivory.
According to U.N. data, Hong Kong imported 206 elephant tusks in 2013 classified as pre-convention ivory, but the imports accelerate poaching in African countries that are trying to protect their wildlife, according to the NGOs that petitioned on Monday.
According to Post, illegal buyers smuggle pre-convention raw ivory into China from Hong Kong, where the elephant tusks are in high demand at ivory carving factories.
Alex Hofford, a wildlife campaigner for WildAid, said the Hong Kong government is aiding and abetting the ivory trade, although Hong Kong is not the final destination for the raw tusks.
In February, public figures including the British naturalist David Attenborough and celebrity comedian Ricky Gervais petitioned Chinese President Xi Jinping, urging the leader to outlaw the ivory trade in China.
The ivory trade is global in scope, and a Natural Resources Defense Council report stated 90 percent of ivory on sale in Los Angeles and 80 percent in San Francisco is likely illegal under existing California law, according to National Geographic.
In January 2013, a Chinese antiques shop owner was arrested for using three U.S. dealers to smuggle $4.6 million of ivory carvings to China by way of Hong Kong.