- Group says illegal ivory easy to get online despite longtime trade
AP Graphic US IVORY TRADE
By Joseph B. Verrengia
AP Science Writer
Online sales of illegal ivory are booming in the United States
despite a longtime global trade ban, conservationists charge.
In a practice that goes virtually unchecked, a new analysis
suggests customers are buying, with a mouse-click, what
appear to be illegal new ivory trinkets by thousands.
The sale of most new ivory was banned in 1989 to curb the
slaughter of elephants in Africa. The ban has been instrumental
in the species' recovery in several nations. Consumers still can
legally buy items like chess sets and cutlery fashioned from
antique ivory as long as the sales are accompanied by permits
and certification documents.
Americans have the world's biggest appetite for ivory, along with
the Japanese and Europeans. And a new, burgeoning clientele
has conservationists especially worried the rising middle
class in China.
Investigators for TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network,
say they found more than 1,000 ivory items advertised each
week on eBay and other auction Web sites. More than one-third
of the merchandise specifically was described as elephant ivory.
Few pieces carry even a pretense of documentation, they said.
Officials with eBay said they were aware of the report, but had no
Most of the ivory items were carved in China, investigators said,
but they are being shipped to the United States through as many
as 80 different countries.
The report by the wildlife group described as the first of its
kind since the ivory trade ban was adopted also shows that
U.S. customs agents seized more than 8,300 ivory items at
airport and border checkpoints in a seven-year period ending in
2002. Most were cheap souvenirs bought by tourists who said
they were unaware of the trade ban.
Conservationists calculate that, based on the number of items
seized and sold, as many as 4,000 elephants, hippos and other
ivory-bearing animals are being killed each year for their tusks.
They said U.S. law enforcement was doing a "good job despite
limited resources" of spotting illegal imports through
conventional channels. However, they said the new online
markets were operating with "little oversight."
"Over the past 10 years, there has been a huge explosion in
online vendors," said Simon Habel, director of TRAFFIC, the
trade monitoring network supported by the World Wildlife Fund
and other groups.
"When we posed online as potential buyers, ivory sellers in
Shanghai and Guangzhou assured us that getting ivory into the
United States would be no problem," Habel said.
The report was issued in anticipation of next week's meeting in
Bangkok of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or CITES.
Before the ivory trade ban, poachers were slaughtering 100,000
elephants a year and threatening the species' existence in
Kenya and other African nations.
In its report, the wildlife group examined 1995-2002 seizure data
from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal
agencies. They also did Internet searches February through May
with online ivory sellers, posing online as potential buyers. They
stopped short of buying illegal ivory items.
They also interviewed customers who bought ivory online and
later claimed they were unaware of the trade ban.
"You could have extensive e-mail conversations and get a good
feel for what's going on," Habel said. "The vendors would tell us,
'Don't worry, we can get a product in by labeling it as a bone
carving. If it gets seized, we'll just send you another one."'
Habel said TRAFFIC shared its results with law enforcement
agencies and eBay.