Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wildlife

Japan's View on Domestic Ivory Market in Japan,
Poaching and Illegal Trade

Behind the African elephant poaching lies the irresponsible demand for ivory ignorant about its legality. It is believed that international crime organizations have abused such demand and are engaged in poaching and smuggling by exploiting weak governance and poverty in Africa.

The African elephant is designated as “internationally endangered species of wild fauna and flora” in the Act on Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora of Japan (ACES), and domestic trade of the specimens including ivory is prohibited in principle. Only under strict conditions set by ACES , whole tusks (including raw ivory), cut pieces and ivory products may be traded within Japan. There are arguments that Japan having a system to allow domestic ivory trade is a cause of elephant poaching in Africa. However, whole tusks, cut pieces and ivory products that are being legally traded in Japan were sourced from ivory legally imported in the past1). It is unlikely that the domestic trade in Japan is contributing to the poaching of African elephants today and the illegal trade of ivory derived from them.

In recent years, no incidents of large-scale illegal import of ivory destined to Japan have been confirmed both outside and within Japan. It is unlikely to attempt illegal import of ivory derived from poaching while taking the risk of being charged with violation of laws despite limited benefits, since ivory legally imported in the past is still available in Japan.

In fact, the report of the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) by the CITES Secretariat [PDF 8.9MB] does not recognize Japan as a destination or a transit hub for illegally sourced tusks or ivory.

1) African elephant ivory that were imported in the past

Japan imported ivory of: i) approximately 2,006 t* between 1981 and 1989, that is, after becoming a state party of CITES (effective from November 4, 1980) until the Appendix Ⅰ listing, and ii) a total of approximately 89 t at the two one-off sales in 1999 and 2009 following the procedures mandated by CoPs.

Note that ivory certified that they were acquired before CITES became applicable with export permission has been allowed to be imported even after 1990.

*Calculated using figures from the CITES Trade Database provided by the CITES Secretariat.