As the world’s elephant and rhino populations dwindle, wildlife advocates are putting pressure on Japan to curb its ivory trade. And activists are accusing Yahoo Japan, a hotspot for online ivory commerce, of facilitating illegal transactions and enabling poachers and smugglers.
The UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a report in December claiming that “Japan is awash with ivory of dubious origin and not a shred of real evidence is required by law to ensure that ivory is of legal origin and acquisition.” And the volume of ivory traded in the country has grown in recent years (PDF, p.3).
The EIA also discovered that more than 12 metric tons (tonnes) of ivory were sold on the Yahoo Japan auctions site between 2012 and 2014. Unlike Amazon and Google, which have banned ivory sales on their sites, Yahoo has reportedly been unresponsive to conservation groups’ concerns about the online ivory trade.
Yahoo Japan is a joint venture between US-based Yahoo and the Japanese tech firm SoftBank, which has a controlling stake. It is also the only Japanese online retailer that still sells whale and dolphin meat, according to The Guardian. More than 1 million people have signed a petition on Avaaz.org addressed ”to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Yahoo Japan CEO Manabu Miyasaka, and all other companies allowing ivory sales online.”
Japan is one of 179 signees of the United Nations Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which bans international ivory trading with a few exceptions, such as ivory collected before 1976. It is under those exceptions that a technically legal commercial market for ivory has flourished in Japan—just like it did in China until 2015.
Distinguishing legal and illegal ivory is increasingly difficult thanks to high demand for the tusks and corruption at every step of the trade regulation process. And researchers are becoming more convinced that it’s impossible for any legal ivory markets to co-exist with the CITES ban, which is designed to protect endangered elephants and rhinos from poaching. Inevitably, the legal markets become flooded with “blood ivory” collected illegally, and modern poachers remain incentivized to kill.