AWF Calls on Japan to Ban Ivory Trade

AWF Calls on Japan to Ban Ivory Trade

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African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and a number of other wildlife groups have signed onto a Statement of Concern addressed to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urging Japan to ban all domestic trade in ivory.

The East Asian country, along with countries such as China and Thailand, has a thriving domestic ivory market but remains a key destination for illicit ivory taken from poached savanna and forest elephants in Africa. 

Through a letter drafted by the Environmental Investigation Agency and addressed to Prime Minister Abe, AWF and other conservation partners are urging Japan to enact a total ban on all domestic ivory trade and impose stiffer penalties on those involved in ivory trafficking.

"There are too many 'safe harbors' for ivory traffickers in Japan, China, Thailand, the United States and other countries," says African Wildlife Foundation CEO, Dr. Patrick Bergin. "These criminals hide their illicit activities behind a legal system and make unsuspecting ivory buyers complicit in the crime. The fastest and most effective way to expose the traffickers and protect elephants is by banning any and all ivory trade wherever it occurs."

Please see below to read the Statement of Concern:

April 27, 2015  

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: 

Japan’s ivory control system is failing to prevent illegal ivory laundering 

Since 1970, Japan has imported ivory from more than 250,000 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. 

Japan’s ivory market is large and thriving 

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. 

Japan’s enforcement system is weak and penalties inadequate 

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. 

Africa’s forest elephants are particularly at risk from the Japanese ivory market 

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, 1400 16th St NW #120, Washington, DC 20036, USA 
All Life In Viable Environment (ALIVE), 5-18-10-102, Honkomagome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-0021 Japan 
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., Bodelschwinghstr. 30, 50170 Kerpen, Germany 
Tanzania Elephant Protection Society, P.O. Box 586, Morogoro, 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