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Japan’s Ivory Trade Faces Intensifying Opposition at Home and Abroad

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The Government of Japan’s policy to continue ivory trading is facing intensifying opposition as major economies around the world take steps to close their domestic ivory markets to help protect Africa’s rapidly declining elephants from poaching.

Next week Yahoo! Japan will end its $10 million dollar trade in elephant ivory, joining Japan’s largest companies which have already banned ivory trade. Yahoo! Japan announced in August that it would cease selling ivory following the revelation that ivory tusks sold on its online auction site were being smuggled into China, undermining the country’s domestic ivory trade ban which came into effect in January 2018.

Japan’s largest companies have also taken actions to ban ivory trade. Internet giants Rakuten, Amazon Japan, Google Shopping Japan and Mercari enacted bans on all ivory trade. AEON, Japan’s largest retailer, advised 180 tenants that sell ivory in its shopping malls that sale of ivory must end by March of 2020. Ito-Yokada has also decided to stop selling ivory in its shopping center.

More than 30 African nations have pleaded with Japan, the EU and other nations to close their domestic ivory markets to help protect their remaining elephants from ivory poaching. The European Union is currently considering a far-reaching proposal to close ivory markets with limited exceptions for small amounts of antique ivory where it can be proven the ivory was legally acquired.

Australia and New Zealand have similar plans to close their domestic ivory markets. Australia’s Minister of Environment, Susan Ley, recently stated that “Australia’s domestic market does not represent a major threat to world ivory trade, but it is important to ensure there are no ‘back doors’ to encourage illegal activity by those seeking to circumvent CITES principles.”

Other nations and territories including the UK, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore are enacting domestic ivory trade bans and the US enacted a domestic ban in July 2016.

Danielle Grabiel, the Environmental Investigation Agency’s (EIA) Wildlife Team leader, stated that “Japan is becoming increasingly isolated by its refusal to close its domestic ivory market. The government’s policy is totally out of sync with international efforts to protect elephants from poaching.”

For the past two years the government of Japan campaigned to encourage registration of ivory tusks, which is required under Japanese law for tusks that are to be sold on the domestic market. The vast majority of the 4,479 tusks (41 tons) registered during the campaign were approved based on personal statements made by friends or relatives rather than proof of the legal origin and acquisition. Japan now has stockpiled 250 tons of ivory.

According to EIA, since 1950 Japan has imported ivory tusks from some 328,000 elephants, most of them from poached animals. EIA expressed concern that the vast majority of Japan’s ivory imports were acquired from poached elephants which means there is no possibility to provide proof of legal origin.

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