Japan's Lax Regulations Threaten Chinese Ivory Ban
The warning—made by Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring group—comes just more than a week before the Chinese government will ban ivory retail sales and follows the closure of ivory factories in the country last March.
"Our findings show without doubt that Japan's largely unregulated domestic ivory market is contributing to illegal trade," Tomomi Kitade, the co-author of a recent report, told the Guardian.
Between 2011 and 2016, Japan illegally exported 2.42 tons of ivory—including elephant tusks, antiques and jewelry—to China, where around 95 percent of Japan's illegal ivory exports end up.
"Continuing to allow substantial illegal exports to go to China will undermine Chinese attempts to enforce the ban on its domestic ivory trade," Kitade told the Guardian.
Online sales are fueling the problem, according to the report. Between May and June of 2017, an average of 2,447 ivory items, worth a combined $400,000, were auctioned on a major e-commerce site, according to Traffic.
Antique dealers also play a substantial role in Japan's ivory trade. Despite a Japanese law that requires ivory owners to prove that their product wasn't bought after 1989, the year the ivory trade became internationally banned, researchers found antique dealers buying unregistered elephant tusks.
Japan, however, claims the ivory products in its domestic market weren't illegally acquired. And earlier this year the government passed a law that tightened requirements and inspections for more than 8,000 ivory retailers and manufacturers in the country. Campaigners described the move as inadequate.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has called for the closure of the domestic ivory markets in its member states and bans international trade.
Ivory poaching, which fuels markets, is devastating African elephant populations. Nearly one-third of African elephants were killed between 2007 and 2014, according to the first ever continent-wide survey of the species. Conservation groups estimate 20,000 African elephants are killed each year for their tusks.
Last year, a record 40 tons of ivory was seized across the globe, triple the amount in 2007.
"Our findings show that the Japanese government has a responsibility to act quickly to end illegal exports," Kitade said.
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What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
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