Changing Planet

It’s Japan’s turn to save the African elephant

By  Iris Ho, Humane Society International

African elephants are in serious trouble. Every year poachers kill as many as 30,000 elephants to supply the global demand for ivory, and the species in Africa are inching towards extinction in the next few decades unless serious action is taken now. The dreadful decline is already happening; between 2007 and 2014, poachers wiped out 30 percent of the total population of the savanna species. The forest species suffered an even worse fate, experiencing a 65 percent population decline, according to a study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Wild African elephants. Photo by Cathy Smith, courtesy of HSI.

Realizing the crucial role that global ivory markets play in this ongoing poaching crisis, the international community urged China to ban domestic ivory sales, and China stepped up to the plate. As part of a joint pronouncement between then-U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping, the two countries committed to combat wildlife trafficking and protect the African elephant. The U.S. now has a near-complete ivory ban, and China is poised to shut down its domestic ivory market by the end of 2017. The battle is all but won, right?

Not yet. With the closure of ivory markets in the U.S. and China, Japan’s sizeable ivory commerce is now in the international spotlight, with arguably the largest ivory market in the world. With so much attention on China over the years, few people realize that Japan has the highest number of ivory manufacturers, dealers and wholesalers of any country in the world. On World Elephant Day today, Saturday, Japan now holds the key to stopping this iconic species from plummeting towards eventual extinction because of this cruel endeavor.

Wild African elephants. Photo by Cathy Smith, courtesy of HSI.

The estimated annual ivory production by the carving industry, excluding whole tusks and semi-processed ivory, is a whopping $19 million. In the last decade, sellers offered $27 million worth of ivory products on Yahoo! Japan Shopping. Meanwhile, between 2012 and 2014 alone, at least 12 tons of whole tusks and cut pieces were sold on Yahoo! Japan’s Auctions site. Research released this month by TRAFFIC Japan, a trade monitoring group, saw a jump in the value of ivory for sale in Yahoo! Japan Auction in the last three years,among other concerns raised in the report. These online transactions are largely unregulated and unmonitored. Online sales are an incredibly easy conduit for illicit ivory obtained from poached elephants to enter a legal market and add even more urgency to the need to ban ivory sales entirely. Decades of attempts at regulating sales have failed to produce the promised results and elephant populations continue to plummet because of poaching.

Scene at the an ivory crush event partnered by the Humane Society organized by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), with support from Tiffany & Co in Central Park on Thursday, Aug 3 2017 in New York. (Mark Von Holden/AP Images for Humane Society)

Instead of helping to reduce domestic trade in illegal ivory, Japan’s ivory tusk registration system actually encourages fraudulent declarations that allow undocumented and possibly illegal tusks to be laundered into the marketplace. China also had an ivory registration system for decades before it finally decided to shun the blood ivory trade.

Anti-smuggling investigations show that ivory has been smuggled illegally from Japan to China, Hong Kong, Thailand and elsewhere, and that Japanese ivory traders are willing to falsify documents to register tusks even when their origin was unknown. Meanwhile, the Environmental Investigation Agency found that officials charged with vetting the origin of these tusks coached applicants on how to falsify records to circumvent regulations. Another investigation revealed that Japanese ivory dealers have been selling ivory to Chinese buyers on a daily basis.

Despite flawed domestic ivory trade regulations and evidence of ivory smuggling out of Japan, the Japanese government stands firmly by its claim that its domestic trade does not contribute to ivory trafficking or elephant poaching and that Japan’s ivory trade control schemes are sufficient. It is a hollow claim that utterly ignores the fact that Japan is directly contributing to the trade that saw the decimation of one of earth’s most iconic creatures.

While the government of Japan has attempted to tighten legislation recently to strengthen ivory sale control, the bottom line is that continued trade in ivory is incompatible with the survival of the African elephant. Elephants are majestic animals who simply should not be killed so that their ivory can be turned into trinkets and vanity items.

Many African countries, including Japan’s trading partners and diplomatic allies, are affected by the scourge of poaching. Armed African militias who profit from the sale of illegal tusks carry out elephant massacres. During the past decade, more than 1,000 rangers have been killed worldwide while on duty trying to protect these animals. The African Elephant Coalition, consisting of 29 elephant range states across Africa, repeatedly calls for the closure of ivory markets worldwide. Most recently in August last year, during a visit to Nairobi by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe where he attended the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, close to two dozen Japanese, African and international conservation experts and groups called on him to discourage the selling and buying of ivory in Japan. Ironically, while in Nairobi in 2016, First Lady Akie Abe visited the renowned David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which cares for rescued elephants, including baby elephants whose herds fell to poaching.

Japan’s thriving ivory trade undermines the international community’s effort to combat wildlife trafficking and reduce demand for ivory. The survival of African elephants depends on ivory consuming countries ending the ivory trade. It’s now Japan’s turn to do its part and save the African elephant by outlawing ivory sales in Japan.

If you would like to help end the cruel ivory trade, please take a moment to sign our petition to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

#worldelephantday on Twitter

Iris Ho is Wildlife Program Manager for Humane Society International. Photo by Meredith Lee.
  • Kerri morehu

    Save the elephants asap

  • Phyllis Duray


  • Scott Linn

    Way past time to ban ivory, everywhere.

  • Mhairi Stedman

    Ivory is for elephants. We are educated and knowledgeable now. Continuing to use ivory means that our children and grsndchildren will never know the beauty of elephants, and what for? A few ornaments or jewellry. Ivory is not a renewable product, leave the elephants alone.

  • caroline ds. abuan

    stop killing elephants for ivory. leave them in a wild.

  • swati

    Please end ivory trade. We stand up for the elephants to save them. Let’s protect Nature,

  • Lindsey mcbride

    Protect elephants!!!

  • Carol Soto

    A live elephant is infinitely more important than an ivory bauble. Save elephants, ban ivory!

  • Kathie Cullen

    Stop poachers and save all the elephants and rhinos from poaching.

  • Kathie Cullen

    Stop Wildlife Trafficking and stop all poaching of wildlife especially the elephants and rhinos

  • Claire Edwards

    It’s about time humanity placed animals before money.
    We all share the planet, that means elephants in particular included.
    Japan needs to come up to the ‘plate’ and ban the ivory trade. If not, elephants will become extinct and humans will kill another animal for greed and profit. Enough is enough! !

  • Anne Storey

    Please stop sales, collections ivory.

  • swati

    Please end ivory trade.

  • Margarettelley

    Come on Japan stop selling Ivory immediately

  • Maureen Fitzgerald

    It has to stop, and stop now if you want your grandchilden to see elephants in the wild – otherwise they will go the same way as other animals that man has hunted to extinction – SHAME, SHAME on you for letting this happen on YOUR WATCH….. you have lost face over this.

  • Maureen Fitzgerald

    I am guessing you wont post my previous comment as its the truth isn’t it !!!!!!!

  • Maureen O’Donoghue

    Respecting animals and the world;s wildlife is a sign of being a civilised people.

  • Maureen O’Donoghue

    Cruelty to humans or animals is a sign of barbarism.

  • Olivia

    Please stop murdering these caring creatures for useless trinkets

  • Pauline Pearson

    Please let us all protect our wonderful wildlife , so many species are being harmed unnecessarily on the name of progress.This is wrong–humans and animals can live together.Please allow these gentle giants to live their lives as nature intended

  • Maria Casey

    It is now Japan’s turn to join many other countries and ban trade in all ivory.

  • Isabel


  • Premla K

    These are beautiful creatures who have strong family bonds – they feel love and heartache. All they ask is to be allowed to roam free and safe. Is that too much to ask not only for elephants but also all other creatures?

  • Betty Ray

    Please stop this terrible trade and help Stop these poachers from killing these beautiful Animals.

  • Betty Ray

    Please stop this terrible trading of ivory and help stop these poachers from killing these beautiful Animals. Thank You.

  • Lee Ann Gray

    Ivory belongs to Elephants.

  • Susan Lloyd

    Please stop trading in ivory. Please criminalise trading in ivory.

  • Birgitta Davidsson

    There is no excuse for using ivory and killing elephants. We must all help protect the elephants that remain and make sure they have enough food and feed in the future. So take your responsibility Japan.

  • Natalie Dumbrill

    Please end the Ivory trade in Japan

  • Rolf Rompelman

    Our wild life is the soul of Africa.Destroy that and we all die.
    Protect,nurture and love all sentient life on the planet.Its essential to our survival as a species.All life is interdependent.

  • Angela

    Come on Japan. Do the right thing.

  • Carla Vagos

    Thanks for all the efforts to save the elephants. The fight isn’t over, but we’re closer than ever.

  • Annette Peterson

    Save the planet, save wildlife…
    Do it for the children…

  • Madeleine Rampling

    Your turn Japan .
    To Stop your ivory market.
    Thank you.

  • Madeleine Rampling

    Your turn Japan to stop your Ivory market.
    Thank you.

  • Patricia Allsop

    Please stop the sale of ivory to end this cruel trade

  • Jane Howarth

    If ivory was devalued there would be no need to kill our wonderful majestic magnificent elephant!!!

  • Anna McConnochie

    Save the elephants. They are worth more alive

  • Janet Hawkins

    Please join the rest of the world in saving the elephants on our planet.

  • ads n


  • Mick Kavanagh

    The human species need to take a stand against the possible extinction of elephants due to the demand for ivory. We need to take urgent action now!

  • Koka Toherom

    You are beautiful people w i t h o u t ornaments of butchered magnificent animals who whish to live and go on existing just like you !!!

  • Louise Thomas

    Good luck with this

  • Jo Wooley

    Thank you.

  • Regina Hart

    Please ban ivory sales in your country.

  • Alejandra Nava

    Please, stop this cruelty business.

  • Marcia Lederman

    Please help these gentle giants that cannot help themselves.

  • Lana Lundin

    Please discontinue legal trade and crack down on illegal trade of ivory. Elephants are on the decline due to poaching of these wonderful animals. These creatures are worth more than a trinket.

  • Karen Eckel

    So sad that these magnificent animals are being killed for their ivory. Glad you will be stopping this in 2018, but it really needs to end now! Soon there will be no more of these elephants to roam our planet. I can’t even imagine what that would be like, nor do I want to! Thank you for doing your part to end this madness!

  • TruusWijninga

    Ivoor is alleen mooi als het aan de olifant zit!!!!

  • Eileen Thibault

    Stop the madness, please!

  • Alison Williams

    These are beautiful creatures who have strong family bonds – they feel love and heartache. All they ask is to be allowed to roam free and safe in their own land. Is that too much to ask not only for elephants but also all other creatures which we share the Earth with?

  • Morry Leyland

    If you have any empathy you would feel the pain of our fellow creatures such as there beautiful animals. Please grow up world and become caretakers.

  • Charlotta Fellert Juborg

    A trinclet is nothing a living elephant is everything!

  • Brian

    Boycott the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo unless they change their ways.

  • Susan Baskin

    Killing elephants, just for some tacky dust-collecting gew-gaws and ornaments. They’re not worth it, they’re garbage, and some day will definitely be garbage. Japan should be ashamed of itself. This, on top of the murderous killing of dolphins – time to grow up and be adults.

  • Robin Rae Dietrich

    My heart breaks-Please stop this madness!
    An elephant is the only one who should be wearing ivory.

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