Poulomee Basu


With Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting the US this week for White House talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership as well as other meetings and events around the country, WildAid has joined a global coalition of conservation groups in calling on the Japanese PM to ban the domestic elephant ivory trade.

Japan has faced criticism in recent years for weak controls over the trade and a proliferation of online sales, with evidence of illegal ivory laundered into the legal domestic market. “Demand for ivory from Japan continues to drive ivory poaching in Africa, and the government must do much more to reduce it,” WildAid CEO Peter Knights said. “When the buying stops, the killing can too.”

Here’s the full coalition letter:

Re: Statement of Concern to Prime Minister Abe of Japan Regarding Japan’s Ivory Trade and the Decimation of Africa’s Forest and Savanna Elephants

Dear Your Excellency Prime Minister Abe:

As a signatory to the London Declaration and the Kasane Statement on Illegal Wildlife Trade, we the undersigned organizations are writing to request that Japan take a leadership role in the fight against the illegal trade in ivory. In light of the global elephant poaching crisis, we respectfully ask you to ban the domestic ivory trade in Japan with immediate effect in order to save Africa’s remaining wild elephants. Our concerns are as follows:

Since 1970, Japan has imported ivory from more than 250,0001 African elephants, much of this from tusks that were illegally acquired through the poaching of wild elephants. Japan has also twice been granted permission to buy ivory despite the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 1989 ban on international commercial trade in African elephant ivory, which was adopted in response to the global elephant poaching crisis of the 1970s-80s. In 1997, Japan secured CITES-approved ivory sales of nearly 50 tonnes of ivory from Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. In 2008, Japan was allowed to import a further 48 tonnes of ivory.

As a condition of both sales, Japan agreed to implement a domestic ivory control system that would prevent the laundering of illicit ivory. Unfortunately, this system has not worked and has instead served to confuse consumers, increase international demand for ivory, and drive up poaching rates.

Of particular concern is the ivory “registration” program which can be used to grant legal status to illegal tusks or tusks of dubious legality. In the last four years alone, the Government of Japan has “registered” 5,600 tusks weighing more than 50 tonnes, bringing the total registered since 1995 to over 14,000 tusks comprising 185 tonnes of ivory. The “registration” of ivory tusks is a massive loophole that can be used to launder illegal ivory onto the Japanese market.

The Government of Japan presides over the largest known stockpile of ivory tusks and cut pieces—over 340 tonnes. Japan also has more ivory retailers than any country—more than 7,570 according to 2014 figures. Furthermore, Japanese internet retailers Rakuten and Yahoo! Japan are the world’s largest
known internet traders of elephant ivory, each of whom hosts thousands of advertisements offering ivory products for sale; over 90 percent of these are for ivory hanko name seals, which are known to be regularly sourced from illegal ivory tusks.

In 2011, Tokyo police presented evidence against Takaichi Inc., Japan’s largest ivory manufacturing company and wholesaler of ivory hanko name seals, for purchasing 58 illegal unregistered tusks. The tusks were part of a batch of between 500 to 1,600 unregistered illegal tusks that had been purchased by Takaichi between 2005 and 2010. Up to 87 percent of the ivory hanko name seals sold between 2005 and 2010 were produced from these illegal ivory tusks. Takaichi Inc. received a fine equivalent to US$12,500 and none of the three senior officials received a custodial sentence.

More than 100,000 African elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012. The rarer forest elephant species, which occur in only six African countries, have suffered a catastrophic decline. Forest elephants experienced a 65 percent decline between 2002 and 2013. While other countries are likely to be implicated in the decline of forest elephants, Japan is the only country in the world with a demand specifically for forest elephant ivory. Also called “hard ivory,” it is used to make hanko name seals, netsuke figurines, bachi plectrums, and chopsticks, among other items. The sale of products using “hard ivory” should be addressed and shut down as a matter of urgency.

Japan can best support the global community’s efforts to combat elephant poaching by banning its domestic ivory trade.

In order to protect their elephants, many African nations have banned ivory trade. In response to the current poaching crisis, other initiatives to ban domestic trade are underway, including in the United States at national and state levels, and Europe. We applaud the Government of Japan for its recently announced effort to increase control of the trade of ivory on the internet, but more must be done. We therefore ask that Japan join the global community’s effort to end the crisis by:
Enacting an immediate and permanent ban on the “registration” of ivory tusks to close this massive loophole.

Banning domestic ivory trade within Japan, giving urgent priority to: ivory hanko name seals, hard ivory used for any purpose whatsoever, and internet trade in elephant ivory and all other elephant products.

Dramatically increasing penalties, including mandatory prison sentences, for selling, possessing, or transporting illegal ivory.

Thank you for doing your part to help prevent the extinction of Africa’s forest and savanna elephants.

Allan Thornton
Environmental Investigation Agency


African Wildlife Foundation, Ngong Road, Karen, P.O. Box 310, 00502, Nairobi, Kenya
All Life In Viable Environment (ALIVE), 5-18-10-102, Honkomagome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-0021
Animal Welfare Institute, 900 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA
Born Free USA, 2300 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Suite 100B, Washington, DC 20007, USA
Born Free Foundation, Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurst Wood Rd, Horsham RH12 4QP, United Kingdom
Conservation Justice, Libreville, Gabon
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, P.O. Box 15555, Mbagathi, 00503, Nairobi, Kenya
The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Saba House, 7 Kings Road, Shalford, Guildford, Surrey GU4 8JU, United Kingdom
Eco Activists for Governance & Law Enforcement, Central and West Africa
Elephant Action League, USA
ElephantVoices, Norway/USA
Humane Society International, 2100 L St., NW Washington, D.C. 20037, USA
International Fund for Animal Welfare, 1350 Connecticut Ave NW # 1220, Washington, DC 20036, USA Japan Wildlife Conservation Society, 102 MoutAPT.1-11-19,Sakai
Musashino-shi, Tokyo,Japan 180-0022, Japan
Last Great Ape Organisation, Yaoundé, Cameroon
Projet d’Appui à l’Application de la Loi Faunique, 227 rue Campel, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
Pro Wildlife, Kidlerstr. 2, 80339 Muenchen, Germany
Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas e.V., Germany
Tanzania Elephant Protection Society, P.O. Box 586, Tanzania
Tears of the African Elephant, Japan
WildAid, 744 Montgomery Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA
WildlifeDirect, Via Africa Conservation Fund (Kenya), P.O. Box 24467, Karen 00502, Nairobi, Kenya World Animal Protection, 450 Seventh Avenue, 31st Floor, New York, NY 10123, USA

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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

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