Internet company Yahoo has been accused of aiding in the slaughter of elephants by allowing the trade of ivory on its Japanese auction site.
Activist network Avaaz has launched a petition calling for an end to Yahoo’s “bloody secret” of permitting sales of ivory. The petition, which has more than 1m signatures, urges Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer and Yahoo Japan head Manabu Miyasaka to “urgently stop all ivory sales from sites/platforms in Japanand all other markets”.
It’s estimated that more than 12 tonnes of elephant tusks and fashioned pieces of ivory were sold on the Yahoo Japan auctions site between 2012 and 2014.
Yahoo Japan is a joint venture between Yahoo and SoftBank, a Japanese telecommunications company.
There are several thousand pieces of ivory for sale on the auction site at any one time. On Tuesday, prices ranged from $20 for a trinket to $60,000 for a five-tiered pagoda carved in ivory. Traffic, an anti-wildlife trafficking group, said in a report last year that most ivory products in Japan are sold as hanko – personal seals that are signifiers of status in the country.
Despite Amazon and Google both having banned the sale of ivory on their platforms, and renewed efforts by the US government to stamp out the illegal wildlife trade, conservation groups said they have made little headway with Yahoo’s Japanese operation in recent years.
“It’s truly unfortunate and there are indications this trade is fueling poaching of elephants and the illegal trade of ivory into Japan and on to places such as China, aided by corruption in the registration system,” said Adam Peyman, wildlife program manger at Humane Society International.
“Yahoo needs to put more pressure on Yahoo Japan but we don’t have high hopes. With other countries putting more regulations on to ivory, they will probably do even better than before because of the increased business opportunity.”
A Yahoo spokeswoman said: “At Yahoo, we understand the concerns raised by this campaign and we in no way condone the sale of products made with ivory obtained from any animal at risk of extinction.
“Yahoo does not accept ads for ivory under our existing policies. Yahoo is an investor in Yahoo Japan and does not have controlling ownership.”
Yahoo owns 35.5% of Yahoo Japan; telecoms firm SoftBank is the largest shareholder, with 36.4%. While Yahoo’s US-based internet business has struggledin recent years, its Asian holdings, including Yahoo Japan and Alibaba, areconsidered highly valuable.
Yahoo Japan came under fire by the UK’s Environmental Investigation Agency in April 2015 for its sale of whale and dolphin meat, which was found to contain unsafe levels of mercury. The company is Japan’s only online retailer that continues to sell whale and dolphin products.
The international trade of elephant ivory has been banned since 1989 under the United Nation’s CITES treaty. However, Japan and China were allowed to legally import 102 tonnes of ivory from African nations in 2007. A report last year by the Environmental Investigations Agency found that a large majority of Japanese ivory traders were involved in illegal tusk registration activity.
The ivory trade has been blamed for stoking an ongoing poaching crisis in Africa. Data released in June showed an alarming 60% drop in elephant numbers in Tanzania between 2009 and 2014. Across Africa, an estimated 35,000 elephants are being slaughtered every year for ivory, amid concerns a fifth of all African elephants will be lost over the coming decade.
Yahoo Japan is not the first online retailer to face pressure over sales of ivory products. In 2015, Avaaz launched a similar petition campaign against Craigslist, urging the company to crack down on black market listings for ivory.
The US has attempted to crack down on the illegal trade of ivory and “trophy” body parts, following the controversy over the death of Cecil the lion, who was killed by a dentist from Minnesota. During a trip to Kenya last year, Barack Obama said the US would institute a nearly complete ban on the commercial ivory trade.
Sally Jewell, the US secretary of the interior, is currently taking part in a tour of Gabon, Kenya and South Africa to highlight the administration’s contribution to stemming the losses of Africa’s megafauna. Jewell said the US will work with African nations to help tackle the “scourge of wildlife trafficking, which is clearly a global threat”.
On Monday, the Sri Lankan government destroyed 359 elephant tusks in a huge stone crusher. The haul, confiscated at the port of Colombo and valued at more than $3m, was destroyed in the latest effort to remove ivory from the illegal wildlife trade.