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Major e-commerce website operators, including Rakuten Inc. and Mercari Inc., have taken steps to ban transactions in ivory products on their respective platforms, fearing that the practice could serve as a hotbed of illegal ivory exports.
Yahoo Japan Corp., however, has yet to follow suit. The company allows transactions to continue on the grounds that domestic ivory trade remains lawful.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Japan in September submitted a written request to Yahoo! Japan calling for a ban on ivory trade on its e-commerce websites.
The export and import of ivory have been prohibited, in principle, since 1990 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, to prevent elephant poaching in Asia and Africa.
The United States also outlawed domestic ivory trade, in principle, in 2014. The government of China, where ivory remains much sought-after for decorative and other purposes, took the same action last year.
In Japan, meanwhile, whole ivory tusks to be put up for sale and business operators handling ivory products are subject to registration requirements with the government, but no particular regulations are in place for other cases. There was a rise in the number of individuals using flea market apps and other online tools to trade in ivory products that had apparently been imported before 1989.
A fact-finding survey of online ivory trading, taken by the WWF in June and July, showed a sharp drop in the number of ivory products put on sale on the platforms operated by Rakuten and Mercari, both of which introduced a rule last year to ban ivory transactions. WWF officials said their ban policies were very effective.
Some cases, however, were found of transactions in ivory products under code words such as “ivory-flavored” and “elephie” to get around the rule, the officials added.
By contrast, transactions remain brisk on the Yahoo! Shopping and Yahuoku! (Yahoo! Auctions) platforms, with an estimated four-week turnover of 37.8 million yen ($334,000) on the latter. Action has been taken by Chinese authorities on ivory products allegedly acquired on Japanese e-commerce websites and exported illegally to China, the WWF officials added.
“The products currently handled on our websites were mostly imported before 1989 (when ivory import was lawful),” a Yahoo Japan representative said. “There is no data that show current ivory transactions in Japan are encouraging poaching in Africa.”
But Sadayoshi Tobai, conservation director with WWF Japan, disagrees.
“The availability of markets in Japan is ultimately supporting the appetite in China for buying ivory products,” he said. “Business operators should exercise voluntary restraint while government action has yet to come.”