Conservationists Call on Japan to ban all Trade in Ivory

My organization, WildlifeDirect, recently became aware of the scale of laundering of illegal ivory in the ivory markets of Japan through its contact with the Japanese NGO Tears of the African Elephant. Please see more about the interview we did on NTV Wild via this link: (or watch the video embedded on top of this post).

We have joined forces with other conservation organizations in Africa and Japan to take the opportunity provided by the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) happening here in Nairobi, Kenya, to publish a joint appeal to Japan to ban all trade in ivory, following the lead of China and the U.S.

Here is our appeal (Japanese version attached as pdf):

African, Japanese and international conservation NGO’s call on President Kenyatta and Prime Minister Abe to agree on measures to save the African elephant.

Nairobi, 25 August 2016: Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) is a conference held regularly with the objective “to promote high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and development partners.” Japan is a co-host of these conferences. Other co-organizers of TICAD are the United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on Africa (UN-OSSA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The next conference is scheduled for Kenya on August 27th and 28th 2016. It will be the first time the event will be held in Africa, previous conferences were all held in Japan.

TICAD has been an evolving element in Japan’s long-term commitment to fostering peace and stability in Africa through collaborative partnerships. In this context, Japan has stressed the importance of “Africa’s ownership” of its development as well as of the “partnership” between Africa and the international community. The exchange of views amongst the conference delegates serves to underscore the case for more, not less assistance from the major world economies. It is in this vein that Africa must seek Japan’s support in saving the African elephant which is undergoing an unprecedented slaughter due to demand for ivory. Japan continue to be a major consumer, and, therefore, has a special responsibility to act in the interest of Africa and elephants.

In part due to Kenya’s leadership position on the matter, most of Africa, Asia as well as the world’s developed nations agree that to save elephants, global ivory markets should be closed. Both the US President Obama and China’s President Xi have made commitments to close the domestic markets which will have a huge impact on demand. Now conservationists call on Japan to support China, USA and twenty-nine African countries by endorsing a plan to afford elephants the highest protection under international law.

The growing demand for ivory in Japan has come about due to thriving legal domestic ivory markets. Studies however show that these markets are used for the laundering of illegal ivory through loopholes in the regulations. Japanese conservation organizations estimate that in the three years between 2012, and 2014, at least 12 tons of whole tusks and pieces of ivory were sold on Yahoo Japan Auction site. These marketing and distribution channels has not been focused by the law enforcement agencies.

In June 2014, the Government of Japan reported to CITES that there are 7,570 registered ivory dealers, 537 ivory wholesalers, and some 293 ivory manufacturers in Japan – the largest known numbers of any country in the world.[1]

Unlike China where ivory is bought for prestige, 80% of the ivory consumed in Japan is used for Hanko, the traditional Japanese seal used as the only form of official signature accepted by banks. But most people buy these products without knowing that they are contributing toward the elephant slaughter and illegal trade.

We urge Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the head of the Giants Club of African presidents supporting elephant conservation, and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, to seize this unique opportunity at TICAD6 to discuss the issue as part of their duty towards the development agendas of Africa and Japan.

We also urge the H.E. the First Lady of Japan, Akie Abe, an ardent conservationist, to join H.E. the First Lady of Kenya, Margaret Kenyatta in raising awareness about elephants and their conservation needs.

Japan is one of Africa’s most important development partners. They have made major contributions and commitments to support conservation. Now the conservation community call for 5 actions to be agreed at TICAD:

  1. Japan to permanently close legal domestic markets of ivory, and aggressively close down online trading sites that deal in ivory, all to crush demand.
  2. Japan to suspend ivory registration immediately, to prevent loopholes that allow fraudulent registration and laundering of illegal ivory.
  3. Japan to support the Elephant Protection Initiative.
  4. Japan to strengthen cooperation on elephant conservation initiatives and combating the trafficking of ivory to Japan through joint investigations and mutual legal assistance.
  5. Japan’s Prime Minister and First Lady to jointly issue statements to discourage the selling and buying of ivory in Japan and to initiate an education and outreach campaign to Japanese citizens on the importance of saving elephants by stopping poaching and ending ivory trade.

Kenya is proud to be hosting the first TICAD conference in Africa and we look forward to positive outcomes of the discussions that the conservation community


PAULA KAHUMBU, Chief Executive Officer, WildlifeDirect
AIRI YAMAWAKI, Chief Executive Officer, Tears of the African Elephant
PETTER GRANLI, President and CEO, ElephantVoices
JOYCE POOLE, Scientific Director, ElephantVoices
DINO J. MARTINS, Executive Director,  Mpala Research Centre
ANGELA SHELDRICK, Chief Executive Officer, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
RICHARD BONHAM Co-founder, Big Life Foundation
ALLAN THORNTON, OBE, President, Environmental Investigation Agency
PETER E. HETZ, Executive Director, Laikipia Wildlife Forum
PHILIP MURUTHI, Vice President for Species Protection, African Wildlife Foundation
MASAYUKI SAKAMOTO, Executive Director, Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund (JTEF)
ANNABELLA FRANCESCON, Executive Chairman,, Maniago Safaris Ltd
MAX GRAHAM, Founder and CEO, Space for Giants
RICHARD MOLLER, Chief Conservation Officer, Tsavo Trust
PROF. KARANJA NGOROGE, Chairman, Friends of Karura Forest Community Forest Association
MRS MARYJKA BECKMANN, Founding member and Director, AAR Health Service Ltd
MARGARET OTIENO, National Coordinator& CEO, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya
IAIN DOUGLAS-HAMILTON, CBE, Founder and CEO, Save The Elephants
KOIKAI OLOITIPTIP , Partnership Coordinator, Amboseli Ecosystem Trust
ROBERT MUCHUNU, Manager, Wajee Nature Park, Mukurwe-Ini

kRCPKAck_400x400Dr. Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of Kenyan Conservation NGO WildlifeDirect and is leading the hard-hitting Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign with Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta. Hands Off Our Elephants is a campaign to restore Kenyan leadership in elephant conservation through behaviour change at all levels of society, from rural communities, to business leaders and political decision makers. 

She is a Kenyan conservationist with a PhD from Princeton University where she studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and conducted her field research on elephants in Kenya 

In addition to running WildlifeDirect Paula lectures undergraduate community conservation at Princeton during an annual field course in Kenya. 

Paula is the winner of the Whitley Award 2014, Brand Kenya Ambassador (2013), Presidential award Order of the Grand Warrior (2013), winner of the National Geographic/Howard Buffet Conservation Leader for Africa (2011) and is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer (2011).

She formerly worked for the Kenya Wildlife Service and ran the CITES office and headed the Kenyan delegation. In 2005 she joined Bamburi Cement and ran Lafarge Eco Systems, a company that specializes in forest restoration of limestone quarries.

Paula is also an accomplished writer and she has co-authored a global best selling children’s book on a true story about a hippopotamus and a tortoise called Owen and Mzee: the true story of a remarkable friendship, it’s sequel Owen and Mzee: the language of Friendships, and Looking for Miza a story about an orphaned mountain gorilla in Democratic Republic of Congo in the same series.

Follow Paula on Facebook   Twitter   LinkedIn   YouTube


  1. ana castro
    August 30, 11:48 pm

    Espero que pronto se acaben estas atrocidades en ese país de gente inteligente para tantos temas y tan salvaje para otros

  2. CatPaw
    United States
    August 29, 1:45 pm
  3. Sallie Robbins-Druian
    Los Gatos CA USA
    August 28, 11:11 am

    One would only hope that the intentions are sincere. History does not however support this, recent or otherwise. We can only pray for a change in cultural attitude.

  4. Cynthia M Takaht, MA
    Cleveland, Ohio
    August 27, 2:43 pm

    It is so heartbreaking that these majestic animals are murdered for worthless trinkets. It is necessary that Japan signs on to a total ban of ivory. Your nation is bright, how can you not see the truth or importance of joining in this moral imperative?