Protected Species, Animal Products for Sale Online

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Until such information is made more accessible to online shoppers, IFAW believes people will unwittingly continue to trade illegally or may find it easier to ignore the rules.

In the United States the Endangered Species Act prohibits the interstate and international sale of a listed species, whether alive or dead and in part or product form.

The laws regulating products from internationally protected animals are more complex. For example, agents for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have 18 pages of policy they refer to on ivory products alone.

Experts from conservation groups and law enforcement agencies agree that the administrators of some Web sites don't seem to be as careful as they could be when policing their listings for illegal activity.

The popular auction site eBay, however, informs users about product regulations and removes listings of illegal items within 24 hours of notification.

EBay spokesman Hani Durzy said the company is continually looking at ways to adjust policies so its 157 million registered users worldwide comply with the law.

"If we can initiate polices that continue to allow people to engage in the free trade of items but, at the same time, make it easier for them to ensure they are not doing anything illegal, then we'll do that," he said.

Of the five million new auctions posted on eBay daily, only a small fraction involve wildlife products, such as stuffed birds and the pelts and skins of some animals, Durzy said. And the site prohibits the sale of live animals.

IFAW spokesman Chris Cutter said his organization has been working with eBay. He said the company will soon add the term "wildlife and wildlife products" to its "Report This" drop-down menu, making it easier to report suspicious items and for the site's filters to react accordingly.

Undercover Sting

Even with sites like eBay taking proactive steps to stop the illegal trade of wildlife products, some people still knowingly break the law.

Ed Grace works undercover on wildlife cyber crimes for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement. The veteran agent said he has noticed an increase in the last five years of illegal products and animals being sold online, although the agency does not keep track of how many cases it works on each year.

Because of the agency's small staff size, the team gives priority focus to people using the Internet to conduct repeated large scale transactions.

"If we can go after the people that are causing the demand, we think we can slow the problem down," Grace said.

During an undercover operation in 2002, Grace was able to buy several rugs made of pelts from endangered species from a man in New York who posted to a taxidermy-enthusiasts Web site.

One of the rugs, made from five rare snow leopards, was purchased for $25,000 (U.S.).

The seller has since pled guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced later this year.

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