Japanese oversight flaws fatal to elephants

Wednesday, May 30, 2007
The Hague, Netherlands
An investigative report conducted by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org) into Japan’s domestic ivory trade controls has uncovered significant and numerous loopholes in the Japanese system that allow illegal ivory derived from elephants poached in the wild to be laundered into the legal domestic ivory market. The results of the report, “Fatal Flaw: The Inadequacies of Japan’s Ivory Trade Controls” represent a robust refutation to the CITES Standing Committee (SC) acceptance of Japan as a trading partner for the one-off sale of ivory stockpiles totalling 60 tonnes approved at the 12th Conference of the Parties (CoP) in 2002.
At the 54th meeting of the SC in October 2006, delegates and conservation organizations were caught off-guard by a last-minute decision recommending Japan as a trading partner for the stockpiles. This decision was made without the knowledge of a recent 2.8 tonne seizure of contraband ivory in Osaka in August 2006, which the Japanese did not disclose until after the meeting of the SC. 

Final approval of Japan as a destination for the stockpiles will be contingent upon the Secretariat’s own verification report to be presented at SC55, which convenes Saturday, June 2.

One of the major weaknesses in the Japanese system disclosed by the IFAW report is the absence of compliance and oversight. According to the report, 64 percent of ivory dealers in Tokyo and 58 percent of dealers in Yamanashi failed to comply with the governmental regulation requiring registration for all ivory dealers. Another survey conducted by the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society between October 2003 and January 2005 revealed that an incredible 90 percent of dealers selling ivory hanko (traditional personal seals required for most official documents) lacked the certification required by Japanese law. The quantity of ivory seized in Osaka represents approximately 56,000 hankos.

Another loophole exists in the regulations for private ownership, as controls for of ivory as personal property are non-existent. Given that approximately three tonnes of registered tusks are introduced into the domestic market annually (TRAFFIC), this provides an enormous opportunity for criminals to launder illegal ivory into legal stocks.

The antique market in ivory presents another opportunity for the laundering of illegal ivory, both domestically and internationally, as does trade via the Internet. According to the IFAW report, some antique dealers appear to be selling relatively new ivory items, and there also appears to be a link to the illegal ivory trade in the Chinese market.

“Japan’s complacency in controlling the illegal trade in ivory and its enthusiasm for ivory status symbols have real and tragic consequences, says Peter Pueschel, Program Manager for IFAW’s Protection of Wildlife from Commercial Trade program. The slaughter of three people in Kenya’s last week, in addition to three recent deaths in Chad and one in the DRC are just the most recent examples of how demand for ivory motivates illegal activity. A total ban on all ivory trade is the only way to work towards protecting both elephants and human populations,” he added.

Over 26 tonnes of elephant ivory was seized between August 2005 and August 2006, which is the highest annual seizure rate witnessed since the 1989 CITES ban went into effect. In addition, enforcement authorities estimate that nearly 90 per cent of contraband slips through controls undetected.

Kenya and Mali have submitted a proposal to CITES for a 20-year moratorium on all ivory, and are currently backed by 10 African elephant range states, as well as additional countries. The moratorium would not affect the stockpile sales approved in 2002.

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Dr. Cynthia Moss, IFAW Elephant Expert
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
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Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
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Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia