Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Illegal ivory sales booming online, trade group says


Online sales of illegal ivory are booming in the US 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 can still 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 immediate comment.

Most of the ivory items were carved in China, investigators said, but they are being shipped to the US 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 US 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.

Before the trade ban, poachers were slaughtering 100,000 elephants a year and threatening the species' existence in Kenya and other African nations.

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