LONDON, March 19 Online selling and weak
controls on domestic ivory sales in Japan are spurring illegal
international trade in elephant tusks and contributing to a
steep rise in poaching, activists said on Tuesday.
A lack of rules regulating the registration of raw ivory and
the licensing of importers, wholesalers, manufacturers and
retailers has allowed illicit stocks into Japan's domestic
market, according to the report by the independent London-based
Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
Under current rules, only whole elephant tusks must be
registered with Japan's Environmental Agency.
"Japan's ivory controls are flawed and there is evidence
that large amounts of illegal ivory ... have been laundered into
the domestic market," said the report, which was co-authored by
animal welfare group Humane Society International.
"The current African elephant poaching crisis requires an
urgent and swift response before populations are wiped out. The
flourishing domestic ivory markets of Japan and China are now
the key driving force behind Africa's poaching epidemic and
global illegal ivory trade."
According to a 2013 study by the University of Washington,
the annual number of African elephants being slaughtered to
supply the illegal ivory trade is estimated to be as high as
50,000, or roughly one sixth of the continent's remaining
International trade in ivory is illegal under the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but its
growth is being fuelled by legal domestic markets in countries
such as Japan and China, where trade is being supported by the
advance of e-commerce.
U.S. President Barack Obama in February announced new
restrictions on the commercial import of African elephant ivory,
as well as on what sport hunters can bring back to the country.
Much of the ivory imported into Japan goes into making
traditional name stamps, called hankos, that are used in lieu of
signatures on documents.
The EIA said between 2005 and 2010, illegal ivory accounted
for up to 87 percent of ivory hankos produced in Japan.
It named Japanese website Rakuten Ichiba as the world's top
marketplace for elephant ivory, citing more than 28,000
advertisments for products. Rakuten Ichiba is Japan's biggest
online shopping site with more than 87 million members.
Rakuten Ichiba is owned by Japan-headquartered Rakuten Group
, which also owns British based Play.com, Canadian
e-reader firm Kobo, and has a stake in social media site
Rakuten Group did not respond to several requests for
"Amazon and Google have stopped all sales
or advertisements of whale, dolphin and ivory through their
Japanese e-commerce sites, and Rakuten must do the same," the
(Reporting by Michael Szabo in London; editing by William