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.


  1. Robin Rae Dietrich
    Orange County, California USA
    October 28, 1:13 pm

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

  2. Susan Baskin
    August 26, 10:44 am

    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.

  3. Brian
    August 16, 1:33 pm

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

  4. Charlotta Fellert Juborg
    August 16, 10:57 am

    A trinclet is nothing a living elephant is everything!

  5. Morry Leyland
    August 15, 6:34 am

    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.

  6. Alison Williams
    August 14, 3:11 pm

    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?

  7. Eileen Thibault
    August 14, 12:08 pm

    Stop the madness, please!

  8. TruusWijninga
    August 14, 11:09 am

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

  9. Karen Eckel
    United States
    August 14, 10:27 am

    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!

  10. Lana Lundin
    United States
    August 14, 9:25 am

    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.

  11. Marcia Lederman
    Montville, NJ
    August 14, 9:13 am

    Please help these gentle giants that cannot help themselves.

  12. Alejandra Nava
    August 14, 8:32 am

    Please, stop this cruelty business.

  13. Regina Hart
    United States
    August 14, 8:19 am

    Please ban ivory sales in your country.

  14. Jo Wooley
    Aurora, CO
    August 14, 8:12 am

    Thank you.

  15. Louise Thomas
    August 14, 8:09 am

    Good luck with this

  16. Koka Toherom
    August 14, 7:44 am

    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 !!!

  17. Mick Kavanagh
    Kilkenny, Ireland.
    August 14, 7:25 am

    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!

  18. ads n
    August 14, 7:18 am


  19. Janet Hawkins
    Rye, New York
    August 14, 7:04 am

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

  20. Anna McConnochie
    Hong kong
    August 14, 6:47 am

    Save the elephants. They are worth more alive

  21. Jane Howarth
    August 14, 6:46 am

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

  22. Patricia Allsop
    United Kingdom
    August 14, 6:27 am

    Please stop the sale of ivory to end this cruel trade

  23. Madeleine Rampling
    Vaucluse France
    August 14, 5:55 am

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

  24. Madeleine Rampling
    Vaucluse France
    August 14, 5:51 am

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

  25. Annette Peterson
    August 14, 5:27 am

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

  26. Carla Vagos
    August 14, 5:18 am

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

  27. Angela
    August 14, 5:18 am

    Come on Japan. Do the right thing.

  28. Rolf Rompelman
    New Zealand
    August 14, 5:03 am

    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.

  29. Natalie Dumbrill
    London, UK
    August 14, 4:33 am

    Please end the Ivory trade in Japan

  30. Birgitta Davidsson
    August 14, 4:09 am

    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.

  31. Susan Lloyd
    August 14, 3:59 am

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

  32. Lee Ann Gray
    United States of America
    August 14, 3:54 am

    Ivory belongs to Elephants.

  33. Betty Ray
    August 14, 3:54 am

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

  34. Betty Ray
    August 14, 3:51 am

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

  35. Premla K
    August 14, 3:44 am

    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?

  36. Isabel
    August 14, 3:34 am


  37. Maria Casey
    August 14, 3:17 am

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

  38. Pauline Pearson
    Mazarron---Murcia ----Spain
    August 14, 3:01 am

    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

  39. Olivia
    August 14, 2:54 am

    Please stop murdering these caring creatures for useless trinkets

  40. Maureen O'Donoghue
    August 14, 2:54 am

    Cruelty to humans or animals is a sign of barbarism.

  41. Maureen O'Donoghue
    August 14, 2:51 am

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

  42. Maureen Fitzgerald
    August 14, 2:39 am

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

  43. Maureen Fitzgerald
    New Zealand
    August 14, 2:37 am

    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.

  44. Margarettelley
    Victoria, Australia.
    August 14, 2:18 am

    Come on Japan stop selling Ivory immediately

  45. swati
    August 14, 1:53 am

    Please end ivory trade.

  46. Anne Storey
    Lititz, PA
    August 14, 1:46 am

    Please stop sales, collections ivory.

  47. Claire Edwards
    New Zealand
    August 14, 1:39 am

    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! !

  48. Kathie Cullen
    August 14, 1:38 am

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

  49. Kathie Cullen
    August 14, 1:37 am

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

  50. Carol Soto
    August 14, 1:32 am

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

  51. Lindsey mcbride
    August 14, 1:12 am

    Protect elephants!!!

  52. swati
    August 14, 1:00 am

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

  53. caroline ds. abuan
    August 14, 12:41 am

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

  54. Mhairi Stedman
    Christchurch, NZ
    August 14, 12:30 am

    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.

  55. Scott Linn
    United States
    August 14, 12:24 am

    Way past time to ban ivory, everywhere.

  56. Phyllis Duray
    Amery, WI
    August 13, 2:14 pm


  57. Kerri morehu
    August 12, 3:41 pm

    Save the elephants asap