Commercial trade in ivory remains one of the major threats to the survival of an iconic wildlife resource: the elephant, in particular the African species (Loxodonta africana). At its 2016 Johannesburg meeting, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) adopted by consensus an urgent call for the closure of domestic markets for ivory. The only Party which has openly defied that call is Japan – claiming that its own domestic ivory market is strictly controlled, and does not contribute to elephant poaching elsewhere. The present study analyzes that claim in light of the evidence, including the country’s legislation (as recently amended) and its application in practice (as documented by multiple recent surveys). The author’s findings do not support Japan’s claim to a sweeping exemption from the global ban agreed by the CITES Conference. On the contrary, in view of serious shortcomings in the Government’s current legislative and administrative controls over the ivory trade (especially with regard to internet transactions), the author recommends effective termination of Japan’s domestic ivory market; and pending such closure, a reclassification of Japan in category 2 of the CITES legislation list (‘legislation believed not to meet all the requirements for CITES implementation’).
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