Bidding for Extinction: Rampant ivory trade on eBay threatens elephant survival

Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Yarmouth Port, MA
An investigative report released today by the IFAW  (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org) reveals how the rampant trade in elephant ivory being carried out across eBay’s global network of auction sites is enabling consumers to literally bid for the extinction of the world’s largest land mammal.
The snapshot survey conducted in the UK, Australia, China, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Canada and the USA* tracked over 2,200 elephant ivory items listed on eBay Web sites and found that more than 90% of the listings breached even eBay’s own respective national wildlife policies.
 
While international wildlife trade laws are complex, in general it is illegal to sell carved or uncarved ivory unless it is antique and accompanied by a proof of age certificate.** 
 
On eBay, however, many sellers are being allowed simply to list items with no provenance of legality whatsoever, in blatant contravention of the rules on most eBay Web sites. Worse, eBay’s enforcement of their largely vague and variable listing rules appears to be haphazard and hopelessly overstrained. Very few of the suspected illegal items reported by IFAW investigators to eBay during the snapshot survey were removed from sale.
 
IFAW believes that the only way to protect elephants from poachers is to shut down the markets where illegal ivory can easily be passed off as “antique. “The Internet is an unregulated and anonymous medium which gives criminals ample opportunity to launder contraband undetected,” says Peter Pueschel, IFAW’s Program Manager for Protection of Wildlife Against Commercial Trade Program. “Constant offers of contraband give a sense of legitimacy to seemingly innocent products and invite consumers to buy frivolously.  This deadly business of ivory, which involves the killing of thousands of elephants every year, is on the increase because of the prospects for sky high profits with zero risk.”
 
IFAW believes that as the world’s largest online shop window, eBay has a special responsibility to lead the way by banning ivory from its sites.  “Only a global ban on all ivory sales will remove the cover under which this criminal activity currently operates and as a result, seriously help to decrease illegal trade and the cruel and unnecessary slaughter of elephants,” comments Pueschel.
 
Last week IFAW met with eBay global headquarters to present the findings of ‘Bidding for Extinction’ and welcomed assurances that a review of wildlife policies on a global scale will take place over the coming weeks.
 
While an internal review of policy by eBay represents a step in the right direction, it remains uncertain how strict and efficient the resulting policy will be to eliminate the massive illegal trade from Ebay Web sites. “This is a chance for eBay to substantiate the company’s claim of being not only a leader economically, but also a responsible member of society”, says Pueschel. “While we welcome any efforts that decreases trade in ivory, our investigation has shown once again that it is impossible to sufficiently police the market sites on a global scale unless wildlife trade is banned completely.”
 
The illegal international trade in wildlife is believed to reach well into the billions of US dollars annually – a nefarious activity that is second in scope only to the international trade in drugs and arms.  Reports in the media also indicate that the poaching of wildlife is now being driven by terrorists to raise money for their activities.
 
“Unless a market site owner undertakes every effort to eliminate this devastating wildlife trade, it must plead guilty to facilitating this dirty business knowingly. While eBay has taken positive steps over the last years, these have not brought desired results. We are now waiting to hear whether they will ban the trade in all ivory on all of their sites, which is the simplest, most cost-effective and efficient way of ensuring they play no part in this criminal trade. Elephants are facing extinction, in no small part because of Internet ivory trade. It is time for action”.

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