HONG KONG - A Hong Kong court has convicted two men for illegal possession of ivory chopsticks after radiocarbon dating proved it was produced after 1990 and therefore unlawful, local media reported.
Hong Kong, a key hub for the ivory trade and manufacturing, announced plans last year to phase out sales completely by 2021.
Government officials bought the pair of ivory chopsticks from a crafts shop during an operation last August in the city's Sheung Wan district, which is dotted with curio and antique vendors.
Radiocarbon dating showed the ivory was obtained after 1990, according to an earlier government press release.
The pair were Tuesday handed fines of US$770(S$1,073) and US$1,000 respectively.
"It's the first time the Hong Kong government has ever used radiocarbon analysis to determine the age of ivory - that's a total game changer in the market," WildAid wildlife campaigner Alex Hofford told AFP.
While environmental groups welcomed the use of forensic evidence, they condemned the light penalty, compared with the maximum punishment of a US$640,000 fine and two years in jail.
Domestic trade in ivory imported legally into Hong Kong before 1990 is legal with a government licence.
"Today's sentencing is a strong reminder that penalties in Hong Kong need to increase to reflect better the gravity of wildlife crime and be an effective deterrent to prevent illegal ivory traders from carrying out similar acts in future," said Yannick Kuehl of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC in a statement.
The Chinese government announced plans late last year to ban all ivory trade and processing by the end of 2017 in a move hailed by conservationists.
Critics have argued Hong Kong's five-year timetable to outlaw sales was too slow and would attract ivory laundering to the city as mainland China moves forward with the ban.
Conservationists estimate that more than 20,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2015, with similar tolls in previous years.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which took effect in 1975, banned the ivory trade in 1989.