Japan rolls out tough measures to curb illegal ivory trade
Updated 14:51, 25-Mar-2019
Alok Gupta
Under intense pressure to shut down its domestic ivory market, Japan has announced strict measures to control the illicit trade.
The country's Environment Ministry has made it mandatory for traders to prove the legal status of ivory pieces through carbon dating. The new law would be enforced starting July.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a global wildlife trade regulator, bans international trade of ivory obtained from African elephants after 1990.
But a large number of countries, including Japan, allow domestic trade of ivory procured before 1990.
For law enforcement agencies, it's a major challenge to ascertain the age of carved and raw ivory pieces. To make things worse, ivory traders often forge certificates to sell illegal ivory pieces procured from recently poached elephants.
The carbon dating method would make it difficult for traders to falsify the origin of ivory and its age, reducing the influx of illegal tusk.
"By shutting down the movement of ivory of unknown origin, the domestic market is moving closer to an effective closure," Japanese Minister of Environment Yoshiaki Harada said at a news conference, according to Japan Times.
In 2016, nearly 90 percent of large seizures of ivory shipments were from tuskers of elephants that died less than three years back, a radiocarbon dating and genetic analysis of 231 samples conducted by the University of Utah and the University of Oxford revealed.
Such loopholes have boosted the smuggling of ivory leading to large-scale poaching of African elephants. Every year more than 20,000 elephants are brutally killed in African countries for ivory.
Carbon dating is a positive step in the right direction to control illegal ivory trade, Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid, an environmental organization told CGTN.
"But now Japan needs to announce a phase-out of all ivory sales to join China, the U.S. and the rest of the world in protecting elephants," he added. 
Japan and the European Union (EU) are facing sharp criticism from wildlife protection organizations for failing to take stringent action against illegal wildlife trade.
Last month, CITES termed Japan as one of the largest ivory markets in the world, reportedly creating demand in countries that have already closed domestic ivory markets.
The U.S., the UK, and China, including Taiwan and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, have all closed domestic ivory trade. Despite a ban in place, customs officials in these countries and regions regularly intercept large consignments of illegal ivory pieces.
Last year, Japan in a bid to tighten the noose around illegal ivory trade enforced regulations like registration of whole ivory tusks, traceability information for every cut piece and every worked product of ivory, and increased the penalty and prison term in case of violation.
(Top Image: Toshio Okuma holds an ivory piece for making 'hanko' or carved name seals at his factory in Tokyo, November 28, 2016. /VCG Photo)