eBay announced this week that it would ban all sales of elephant ivory on its site after the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reported (.pdf) that eBay auctions account for nearly two-thirds of the global trade in endangered species.
The animal-rights group tracked 7,000 online listings in 11 countries, cross-referencing the names of animals on endangered species lists with product keywords like trophy, oil, claw, and rug. The amount of trade in the US, they said, was ten times higher than the next-highest countries, China and the UK. Nearly 75 percent of trades were in elephant ivory; another 20 percent were exotic birds. Primates, cats, and other animals made up the difference.
Part of what’s so insidious about online trading is how difficult it is to police. The sheer volume of auctions on big sites like eBay, where close to $2,000 worth of goods changes hands every second, makes it hard to verify every seller’s claims. So, for example, a seller who claims his ivory earrings are “pre-ban”—made from ivory obtained before the US banned such imports in 1989—covers his back legally, but may not have documentation to back up his claims.
In light of these difficulties, it make sense to institute a global ban, which eBay has now said it will do for ivory sales by the beginning of 2009. But as IFAW points out in its report, the scope of internet trading far exceeds the ability of any one group to track, and the online black market is likely much bigger than we know.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Arno & Louise.