With implications for the global wildlife trade, research from the University of Stirling and Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) has shown how Japan, once the biggest consumer of ivory, ceased to be a destination for the product.
While a global trade ban signed in 1980 was hugely significant, an interplay of cultural and economic factors also had a big impact, the researchers found.
Poaching for ivory has led to the endangerment of elephants in Africa and India, with fewer than 500,000 remaining worldwide, according to WWF. The largest destination markets in the world are now China and neighboring Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Dr Laura Thomas-Walters, from Stirling’s Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, who led the research, said: “Our research has identified the market drivers that have led to a reduction in demand for ivory, despite the high cultural value it has had in Japan for over 1000 years.Understanding what may be causing a decline in the wildlife trade is vital, as many continue to cause devastating losses in biodiversity around the world.
Dr Thomas-Walters has worked with NIES in Japan, as well as the Universities of Kent and Oxford, to analyze data from the past 40 years since Japan signed the Convention’s global trade ban on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1980.
Dr Thomas-Walters said: “While the CITES ban was extremely important, other elements came together in Japan, particularly in the 1990s. There was an economic downturn, which fueled a cultural change away from the conspicuous consumption of expensive goods such as ivory objects, jewelry or furniture.
“We also found that the demand for ivory in Japan was passive, meaning that if it was on sale people would buy it, but if it wasn’t they wouldn’t look for it. unlike countries like China, where there is a thriving black market.
“We found that NGO anti-ivory campaigns following the CITES ban, while they may not have influenced consumers directly, have exerted indirect pressure on retailers, which further reduced the presence of ivory in stores.
Trust in government ‘important’
The researchers used a combination of data analysis, stakeholder interviews and literature review to test different hypotheses for reducing ivory imports, concluding, for example, that high-level spokespersons had not been particularly effective, while trust in government was important.
Dr Thomas-Walters said: ‘We found that respecting the legitimacy of government authority in Japan increased the effectiveness of trade prohibition. Where governments are seen to have legitimate authority, people tend to obey, whereas in other countries where respect is lower, black markets thrive.
Dr Takahiro Kuba, from NIES, said: “This research, conducted with various stakeholders, has confirmed the decline in demand for ivory for luxury items – hanko stamps for signing correspondence, for example. In addition, sluggish economic growth will accelerate the decline of the domestic market. Policy makers must therefore consider this decline in domestic demand when collaborating globally on the sustainable management of ivory.
There remains a domestic market for ivory in Japan, but the researchers concluded that this was no longer important in terms of global trade, as it involved trading historical rather than current imports. “Of course, it remains important to ensure that border security remains tight,” added Dr Thomas-Walters.
The paper “Understanding the market drivers behind the decline in demand for ivory products in Japan” is published in the journal Conservation and Society.