Japan adds its voice to scrapping ivory ban

The Japanese government is set to be drawn into a fresh environmental controversy about the banned trade in African ivory. Southern African nations have enlisted the support of Japan - traditionally a leading user of ivory - in talks aimed at amending the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which implemented a ban on sales of ivory in 1989.

In February, Japanese bureaucrats secretly met at the Mokuti Lodge in Namibia's Etosha National Park with officials from Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi, who collectively make up the South Africa Centre for the Ivory Trade (Sacit).

Delegates at the meeting, who included representatives of environmental NGOs and the British Department of the Environment, expect to reach a final decision in the next three months. But Japanese officials are quietly confident that they will lend their support to a lifting of the ivory ban, and the issue is likely to be raised at the next Cites convention in Zimbabwe in 1997.

Japan is one of the biggest ivory markets in the world, and almost 4,000 businesses rely on elephant tusks for the manufacture of jewellery, traditional musical instruments and personal seals, which are widely used in place of signatures. Since the ban, craftsmen have relied on stocks but only 160 tons remain and they will run out in five or six years.

At the same time, African countries are becoming increasingly frustrated by the ban which prevents them from selling off large stocks of tusks, legitimately gathered during official culls.

Half of elephants in Africa live outside the game reserves and, despite culling, they are often a great nuisance to farmers and inhabitants. African officials believe that the ban encourages poaching by driving up the market price of ivory, and fostering an atmosphere in which elephants are regarded as a menace rather than a valuable resource. A controlled trade, they argue, would also generate much-needed funds for conservation projects.

"When the ban first came in, there was a decline in poaching, but all the indications are that the scale of the illegal trade is increasing," says Dr Malan Lindeque, Namibia's deputy director of resource management, who set up the February meeting. "People have little reason to tolerate elephants - they are shot, ivory is exported, and there is no benefit to conservation or to society. Our intention is to make elephants as valuable as possible."

"Our principle is that a decision should be based upon scientific facts," says an official of the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry. "The population of elephants in south Africa is very stable, and the south African nations should be allowed to reopen the trade for the sustainable use of ivory products. In Japan, the ivory industry is very traditional, and we regard it as an important part of Japanese culture."

Tokyo's Environment Agency is wary of raising the issue for fear of reinforcing Japan's reputation as a environmental violator. Japan uses the same arguments in support of its call for a resumption of commercial whaling, an issue which has generated international opprobrium. "There's not enough infrastructure in Africa to control an elephant industry," says David Butcher, the chief executive of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). "It's the most likely thing that would lead to elephant extinction. Anyone who said anything to the contrary is crazy."

Environmental groups also claim that controls in Japan are inadequate to prevent trade in illegal ivory and depend too much on the goodwill of the businesses involved.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing