Pressure mounts on Japan to act on the call by CITES to close domestic ivory markets that are contributing to poaching or illegal trade

Posted on 08 May 2019

Japan remains one of the world’s largest domestic ivory markets, and is home to an active, though shrinking, ivory manufacturing industry.

Tokyo, 8 May 2019: WWF has today requested the government of Japan to conduct an overhaul of the legal system governing its domestic ivory market. Ryuji (Ron) Tsutsui, CEO of WWF Japan made the request when he presented the findings of a study of the legal systems in leading jurisdictions to the Director-General of the Nature Conservation Bureau at the Ministry of the Environment. The report, which was released today also highlights recommendations to bring Japan’s legal system in line with international best practices.


“The legal analysis details the current failings in the regulation of Japan’s ivory market and recommends that closing the market and defining very narrow legal exemptions is the only approach for the Government of Japan to fully comply with its framework obligations under CITES,” said Scott Martin, Managing Partner of Global Rights Compliance and lead author of the report.


With an urgent need to fight the elephant poaching crisis and illegal ivory trade, CITES[1]  Parties agreed at the last Conference of the Parties in 2016 to call for urgent market closure of any domestic markets that are contributing to “poaching” or “illegal trade.”[2] Following China’s recent closure of its domestic ivory market, which was until recently the world’s largest demand centre for illegal ivory, Japan is now under increasing pressure to do its part. The 18th Conference of the Parties of CITES will be held later this year.


Japan remains one of the world’s largest domestic ivory markets, and is home to an active, though shrinking, ivory manufacturing industry. The country also boasts significant stockpiles of raw tusks and raw ivory pieces in private ownership and is the only country under CITES that has twice benefitted from commercial import of raw ivory totalling 90 tonnes through two “one-off sales” conducted in 1999 and 2008.


The Japanese government maintains that its market contributes to neither “poaching” nor “illegal trade”.  However, TRAFFIC’s surveys conducted in 2017 and 2018[3] disputed this, revealing its contribution  to “illegal trade” by allowing rampant illegal export to China.


The Japanese government has ratcheted up certain aspects of domestic control, including a recent announcement for the upcoming tightening of requirements for registering whole ivory tusks for legal trade starting July 2019. However, many of the critical issues remain unaddressed. The legal system still lacks control over vast private stockpiles and an effective and enforceable regulation over trade in ivory other than whole tusks (i.e. cut-pieces and worked ivory).


“Japan is definitely expected to bring its actions up to speed and to scale to ensure it does not undermine the global efforts by failing to recognize the significance of its role and responsibility, ” said Ryuji (Ron) Tsutsui, CEO of WWF Japan.

Camera trap image taken by Will Burrard-Lucas using Camtraptions PIR motion sensor. Zambezi Region of Namibia
© Will Burrard-Lucas / WWF-US