BEIJING/TOKYO – Japan is under growing pressure to address its illegal ivory exports after China, once the world’s largest ivory market, declared a total ban on domestic ivory trade late last year.
The Chinese government made the decision in response to international criticism, and ivory is no longer available in legitimate jewelry stores or shopping websites.
In Beijing this month, a Jiji Press reporter saw a sign saying ivory was available, at the entrance of a large building that houses many jewelry stores.
But what was actually being sold inside were mammoth tusks purportedly imported from Russia. Trade in the extinct animal’s tusks is not prohibited. A store clerk there said it is impossible for legitimate stores to sell ivory now.
But ivory remains a symbol of wealth in China and still attracts demand. Ivory prices on the black market are expected to continue rising, a Chinese jewelry industry source said.
An environmental expert said that genuine ivory could be sold as mammoth tusks, including through online channels.
International trade in ivory is banned in 1990 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In Africa, however, more than 20,000 elephants are believed to be poached each year for ivory.
Not all ivory illegally traded in China is supplied by poachers. Japan in fact is viewed as a supplier to its black market.
In Japan, a lot of ivory products imported before the ban on international trade took effect are legally traded. Chinese brokers buy those products in Japan for sale in China.
According to environmental activist group WWF Japan, 2.4 tons of ivory illegally exported from Japan was seized overseas between 2011 and 2016. Of the total, 95 percent was bound for China.
In written demands submitted to the government this month, WWF Japan told Japan to strengthen measures to prevent illegal ivory exports.
In December, the wildlife trade watchdog Traffic Japan said Japan is fueling the ivory trade by failing to curb “rampant” illegal exports to China and by inadequately monitoring its own legal but poorly regulated domestic sales.
It specifically urged placing an immediate ban on Japan’s thriving online trade in ivory and cracking down on shops in tourist areas that sell ivory to mainly Chinese buyers, including dealers who shuttle between the two countries.
The report contains findings from a market survey conducted by Traffic investigators who were posing as customers. After surveilling 430 shops and stalls in touristy areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, they found nearly 5,000 items made from elephant tusks.
“We know people in the world are looking at our country with stern eyes,” Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa told a news conference last week after WWF Japan’s actions.
“We have a public-private council on the promotion of appropriate ivory trade, and based on discussions by the council, we’ll make necessary efforts,” Nakagawa said.