By YU KOTSUBO/ Staff Writer

February 23, 2018 at 08:00 JST






It is legal to buy ivory accessories and chopsticks in Japan, but it is illegal to take them abroad. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The excuse “I had it at home” will no longer wash with the Environment Ministry if it catches anyone trying to profit from elephant tusks under a new clampdown on illegal ivory trading.

Smarting from international criticism that Japan is not doing enough to deter poachers from killing elephants, the ministry will require owners of tusks to provide unshakeable documentation they acquired the items before the Washington Convention banning ivory trade came into effect in 1989.

The new rule takes effect from summer 2019 at the earliest.

Japan had been one of very few developed nations that allow domestic trade of ivory, but all unprocessed, complete tusks must be individually registered with the Environment Ministry, along with documentation showing the items were not illegally imported after the 1989 ban.

In announcing the policy Feb. 2, Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa said customs clearance documents from when the items arrived in Japan would serve as legitimate proof of ownership provided they fell within the right time frame, but added that “third-party testimony” would not be accepted under the new rule.

The ministry will place an official who specializes in illegal ivory trade at each local environment office in the Kanto, Chubu, Kinki and Kyushu regions from spring or thereafter.

More than 90 percent of annual applications for complete tusks in recent years were granted on the basis of statements by friends and family members that the items in question had been “kept by the applicant at home since it became illegal to import ivory products.”

Each year, the ministry receives more than 1,000 such applications.

Traffic, an international NGO that monitors wildlife trade, and other interested parties have attacked the current system on grounds it is easily manipulated by traders out to make a buck.

They contend that illegally exported elephant tusks are being registered through a superficial verification process.

Police have seized quantities of ivory in a number of instances.

While ivory products, such as personal seals, are not subject to registration, the ministry says tightening of regulations will allow it to control the source of supply and stamp out the trade in illegal ivory products.

“It is a no-brainer to stop relying on third-party testimony as proof of legitimacy,” said Traffic Japan representative Tomomi Kitade. “To implement tight control, the government needs to move fast to grasp domestic ivory stocks, including un-registered, unprocessed tusks.”