By Priscilla Feral

The fate of critically endangered African elephants shouldn’t be decided by Hong Kong’s foot-dragging.

Far from Friends of Animals applauding Hong Kong’s promised ivory sale ban three years from now, the real issue is whether elephants have any future at all and will even be around in 2021.

The problem is simple market economics. When the ivory on a single elephant is worth more than a year’s salary to the average African, it is easy for ivory dealers to encourage poachers. And when poaching has reduced populations to the point of endangerment, the value of rare elephants increases dramatically and that stimulates even more intensified poaching.

Contrary to the World Wildlife Fund’s view that a future ban on ivory sales with heavier penalties in Hong Kong, which is the world’s largest market for ivory, will reverse poaching, elephants won’t have any real peace until all markets which thrive on elephant exploitation are immediately shut down and all financial incentive for killing elephants are removed. Elephants shouldn’t have to wait three more years for that.

Since 1989, Friends of Animals has funded anti-poaching efforts in Africa, and worked to protect elephants from trophy hunting and the ivory trade. We’re familiar with the World Wildlife’s Fund’s “sustainable use” axiom, which we call a perpetual-exploitation view that regards elephants as commercial products and supports ivory sales through regulations if elephants can generate income. The real struggle over elephants is the fight between protecting an endangered species and greed.

Amid an international accord banning trade in ivory, Hong Kong secured a six-month reprieve to dispose of its stockpile of 670 tons of ivory. That stockpile represented the death of about 100,000 elephants.

Most of the ivory entering Hong Kong comes from poached elephants. And now Hong Kong asks for that process to continue for three more years while the World Wildlife Fund and the Humane Society International applaud what Friends of Animals calls an empty promise.

Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, has presided over the international, non-profit animal advocacy organization since 1987. She has also served as president of the San Antonio-based sanctuary Primarily Primates and is a food activist and author of three vegan cookbooks.