By Maggie Dewane
Environmentalists today called on the Government of Japan to ban domestic ivory trade to prevent the extinction of Africa’s highly endangered and rapidly disappearing forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). The continent’s population of forest elephants, a distinct species from savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana), plummeted by 65 percent between 2002 and 2013 due to ivory poaching. As few as 80,000 forest elephants remain in seven countries across Central Africa, half of which live in Gabon.
Japan is the only country in the world with a continuing strong demand for the “hard” ivory produced by forest elephant tusks, where it is used to make signature name seals, musical instrument parts, carvings, and chopsticks. Thousands of ivory trading companies operate in Japan and the government enables poached ivory to be laundered into the country’s domestic market under a severely flawed ‘registration system’ that allows undocumented ivory to become legal.
“For years, Japan has failed to control its legal and illegal trade in raw tusks and worked ivory, enabling poached tusks to be laundered onto its domestic market,” said Allan Thornton, president of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a non-profit group based in Washington, D.C. and London, UK. “Japan has reported a national ivory stockpile of 340 metric tons of ivory, the largest known national stockpile in the world, equivalent to over 16,900 dead elephants. Japanese internet retailers Rakuten and Yahoo! Japan are the world’s biggest online sellers of cheap, mostly illegal ivory.”
EIA is appealing to Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe to ban the domestic ivory trade as Japan’s Environment Ministry prepares to host a symposium this weekend to discuss the country’s ivory trade. Last year, the United States announced a domestic ban on ivory trade to protect Africa’s elephants and growing international pressure has fallen on China and Hong Kong to enact domestic ivory bans as well.
For decades, Japan was the world’s largest consumer of elephant ivory, importing over 5,000 metric tons of ivory tusks—equivalent to approximately 230,000 elephants—in the 20 years before the 1989 international ban on ivory trade. In recent years, huge demand for ivory from China’s growing middle class has surpassed Japan’s, fuelling a poaching epidemic across Africa.
“Japan bears the greatest responsibility of any nation in the world for the destruction of forest elephants due to its failure to control ivory trade within its borders and by turning a blind eye to the smuggling of poached tusks,” said EIA Senior Policy Analyst Danielle Fest Grabiel.