for National Geographic News
Ebay announced yesterday a global ban on sales of ivory products, a day before a conservation group issued a report showing that the online auction site is helping to fuel illegal trade in wildlife products.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) recently conducted a three-month-long investigation, carried out simultaneously in 11 countries, that monitored 183 public Web sites for traffic in endangered species.
"We were stunned [with the findings]," said IFAW spokesperson Jeff Flocken. "We knew that there was a lot of trade going on, but we were very surprised how prevalent it really was out there."
The group found more than 7,000 illicit online auctions, advertisements, and communiqués dealing with both live animals and wildlife products.
Of the total trade volume tracked on U.S. Web sites, 73 percent occurred on eBay. Elephant ivory—ranging from full tusks to trinkets—accounted for the bulk of the site's wildlife offerings.
"While we realize a certain percentage of the trade is coming from individuals who inherited a piece of jewelry or statue, that's not the only offender," Flocken said. "There are hardcore dealers who are using eBay to get the ivory out there illegally."
Ebay spokesperson Nichola Sharpe said the company has actively worked with animal-welfare groups in recent years to stop illegal sales of ivory on the site.
The policy change, which goes into effect in January, has been in the works for months, Sharpe said.
"We really felt [ivory] was becoming far too complex to actually enforce and also to clarify whether an item is illegal or not, so we just felt that a global ban across all of the  eBay sites would be easier," she said.
As far the IFAW report, Sharpe said the company was made aware of it three weeks ago and has requested a copy so they can investigate the claims.
Wildlife experts estimate that 20,000 African elephants—mostly in Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—are killed each year for their tusks and meat, a lucrative byproduct of the illegal ivory trade.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES