Environmental Investigation Agency alleges that Japanese wildlife officials promote illegal ivory trade

It has been alleged by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that an official at the Japanese government-appointed agency that controls the country’s domestic ivory market is encouraging illegal trade in elephant tusks.

The EIA claimed last week that an official advised an undercover investigator how to fraudulently register a tusk as legal and how to obstruct a potential police investigation.

The alleged findings are based on an investigation of procedures at the Japan Wildlife Research Center (JWRC), a non-government body appointed by Japan’s Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry to verify the legality and subsequently “register” ivory tusks before they enter Japan’s domestic market. It declined to comment on the EIA’s claims.

This comes at a time when Africa’s elephant populations are suffering from a poaching epidemic fuelled partly by Asian consumer demand.

“Today’s revelations expose fraud and illegal ivory trade at the heart of the Government of Japan’s failed ivory control system,” said Allan Thornton, president of EIA, based in Washington, D.C. “Japan must now enact a domestic ivory ban to help stop the ongoing slaughter of Africa’s elephants.”

Last month, EIA claimed that Japanese ivory traders routinely offer to engage in illegal activity, both to buy and sell unregistered ivory tusks and to fraudulently register tusks as legal.

Only tusks acquired before the 1989 ban on international trade in ivory or imported from two CITES-approved sales may be legally registered and sold in Japan. But the EIA claims that evidence gathered by an undercover EIA investigator posing as an elephant tusk owner reveals JWRC complicity in fraudulent tusk registration.

The JWRC official allegedly advised the investigator how to resist a potential police investigation should she decide to sell the tusk illegally without registering it. “You need to stay with your story,” he said. “No matter what they may say to you, you just don't change your story.”

In a separate conversation, the official coached the investigator eight times to declare that the investigator’s tusk was acquired in the (pre-1989) “Showa Era,” thereby qualifying it for the “pre-ban” exemption and registration, though the investigator clearly stated the tusk was acquired in the year 2000, thus was not exempt.

Last week in Geneva, Japan’s illegal ivory trade was discussed by the Standing Committee of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Japan is currently classified as a “country of interest” subject only to limited scrutiny by the international community.

“Japan has reneged on the legal and moral obligations that it pledged to CITES and African elephant range states, thereby increasing demand for ivory and driving increased elephant poaching,” said Danielle Grabiel, Senior Policy Analyst at EIA.

Last month’s report by EIA Japan’s Illegal Ivory Trade and Fraudulent Registration of Ivory Tusks, suggested there was fraud within the Japanese tusk registration system. Thirty of 37 ivory traders interviewed by an undercover investigator offered to engage in illegal activity to buy, sell or manufacture unregistered ivory tusks, or offered to obtain JWRC tusk registration using fraudulent declarations as proof of legality of origin.

Over 5,500 tusks were registered in Japan between 2011 and 2014 without requiring proof of legal origin and acquisition as agreed with the CITES Secretariat and Standing Committee in October 2006.

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