“Environmental Investigation Agency,” a US NGO involved in ending the poaching of elephants released the results of an investigation of the Japan Wildlife Research Centre (JWRC) (based in Tokyo) that serves as the certifying body for the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, in which they revealed that “Centre officials are encouraging trade in illegal ivory.” Beneath the Centre’s actions, which may draw international criticism, lie structural issues on the financial side including indications that the Centre’s financial base is strongly dependent on the money coming in from ivory registration fees.
Last autumn, an EIA investigator posing as an ivory owner contacted a JWRC official in an undercover investigation. The official provided suggestions as to what to say if questioned by the police, with vivid exchanges left on the recordings.
Investigator: (The ivory I have) is partially carved. Can I sell it without the registration (required by law)?
Official: “Whole ivory tusks” can be registered. I think it is highly likely that when a partially carved, large tusk that retains its whole shape is sold online, you will be asked if it has a registration card. No matter what the police or anyone says to you (you should) assert: “It is not a complete tusk, is there some problem with that?”
Investigator: I should be aggressive?
Official: You should assert it.
In the data of phone recordings received by this publication, there is content that could be construed as aiding in illegal activities. The commercial trade in ivory was banned by CITES in 1989, and this is inappropriate correspondence from the public body charged with the government’s obligation to register ivory that is bought and sold.
The Financial Base
Meanwhile, the official encouraged the undercover investigator to state that the ivory was obtained in the 1980’s prior to the regulations coming into force, which would allow the ivory to be registered comparatively easily.
“It is as if the official is conducting business,” said Masayuki Sakamoto, Esq. of the Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund who heard the recordings. “It seems like it is related to the fact that the financial base of the Centre’s registration-related operations have quickly come to depend on the influx of money from ivory registration fees.”
The Centre’s registration-related operations management includes a CITES registration special account, and the income is derived from registration fees for individual animals (such as terrestrial turtles and other live fauna and flora), parts (like ivory tusks), and processed materials and products. In 2010 (July of 2010 to June of 2011), the income from registration fees totaled JPY25,170,000. In 2014, the total had increased to JPY32,120,000.
In June of 2014, the registration fee for ivory increased from JPY1,100 to JPY3,200, and the number of tusks registered in 2014 increased to 2,212, over 500 more than previous years. The amount of income from registration of ivory jumped from being 4% of the total income from all registration 2010 to 22% of all income in 2014.
The problem is rooted in the fact that it is, as Sakamoto points out, “a fiscal structure that depends on ivory registration.”
In response to this, JWRC Director of the International Endangered Species Management Division Tomonari Nakashima emphasized the Centre’s transparency, saying that “Our financials are made public.” He denied the report’s claims, adding, “We are not (intentionally) increasing registration.” As to the criticism regarding the correspondence with the [JWRC] official, he said “We will amend what needs to be amended.”
EIA President Allan Thornton (66) spoke with us last month during his visit to Japan, and said that Japan is being targeted by ivory trafficking groups.
Reporter: But compared to the period immediately following the 1989 ban on the commercial trade in ivory, Japan’s ivory trade has become lawful.
Thornton: I have come to Japan more than 15 times since 1977, and have been very impressed with the Japanese culture and traditions, but the situation with regard to ivory has not improved at all. The registration system has serious loopholes, and criminal syndicates are targeting Japan as a place where they can buy ivory online and locally and export it to China. Last October, 800 kg of ivory smuggled out of Japan was seized in Beijing.
Reporter: So, what should be done now?
Thornton: (Following the U.S.-China Summit), the two countries are working to end elephant poaching and to end the trade in ivory. It is time for Japan, the third great economic power, to ban the trade in ivory as well.Ministry of Environment Sends Directive to Ivory Registration Organization