In a promising new report, Teetering on the Brink: Japan’s online ivory trade, TRAFFIC finds that the trade in ivory has dropped by as much as 100% this year on Japan’s largest online ivory trading platform, Yahoo Japan. It’s a major development considering the dangerous state of the nation’s ivory market revealed in 2017. This resolve must become nation-wide and be enforced by the Japanese government if the country is to put an end to its role in the international ivory trade.
Three years ago, TRAFFIC revealed an urgent need for Japan to close down its ivory market to end its significant contribution to the ongoing destructive international ivory trade which, despite its illegality under (CITES) [1,2], provokes the killing of an estimated 55 African Elephants per day. With illegal exports rising and incidents of large ivory seizures, the 2017 report was seen as a final warning with a clear need for authorities to address the issue to help protect elephants. Regrettably, the government response has been minimal.
Nevertheless, in recent years, several online platforms have taken voluntary steps to ban ivory sales. They included, in November 2019, Yahoo Japan, who at the time were the largest e-commerce platform for ivory, a move that was heralded as a major turning point. With the ban now firmly in place, TRAFFIC’s new report Teetering on the Brink evaluates the impact of that decision.
In a snapshot survey, TRAFFIC compared the number of shops selling ivory on Yahoo Shopping before and after the ban, and found a remarkable 100% decrease, from 58 shops in 2017 to 54 shops in 2018, now down to zero in 2020. Comparable trends were found for Rakuten-Ichiba, which instigated the same ban three years earlier, with just one online shop offering ivory post-ban, compared to 55 pre-ban.
Similarly optimistic results were found on Yahoo Auction, with sales of ivory not just by businesses but between consumers (non-business individuals) almost disappearing entirely, dropping by over 99%. In cases where the researchers did find offers of ivory contra company policy, after they were alerted, the companies took swift action to have them removed.
Such achievements reveal that voluntary bans by companies have great value in shutting down mechanisms by which ivory can leak into the international market from Japan, as well as the strong industry commitment to combating the problem.
Other companies in the sector that do not yet enforce such a ban are strongly encouraged to do so, particularly with the greater shift towards online shopping as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the report warns that actions by the e-commerce industry, although highly significant, are insufficient to address ongoing issues with Japan’s ivory market. Although online trade in ivory and illegal exports have reduced, they are still ongoing, including trade to China despite their domestic ivory ban introduced at the beginning of 2018.
Ivory trade persists in Japan via other channels including at physical auction houses and in private groups on social media, which are particularly challenging to measure and monitor.
TRAFFIC therefore calls upon the Japanese Government to develop an action plan that will decisively close its ivory markets (with narrow exemptions), initiate consultations on phasing out the use of ivory nameseals (hankos), and work more closely with Chinese Authorities to achieve CITES’s goals.
“As beneficial as actions from individual companies and local governments are, they can only trim the edges, not address the heart of the issue,” said Ryoko Nishino, Program Officer at TRAFFIC’s Tokyo office. “Comprehensive change must come from the top: the central government must commit to enforcing stringent measures to ensure Japan can no longer be implicated in the demise of African Elephants.”
One fifth of Africa’s Elephants have been lost in the last decade. The new report highlights the rapid changes that the private sector and enforcement measures can bring about—actions that need to be replicated in all countries with unregulated ivory