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'Killing With Keystrokes:' EBay Bans Ivory Sales

EBay said it is committing to saving elephants from slaughter and will ban sales of ivory products on its site beginning next year.

EBay's new policy was announced just hours before the release of IFAW's latest investigative report "Killing with Keystrokes." The conservation group said that in a six-week period, IFAW investigators tracked 7,122 online auctions, advertisements and communiqus offering ivory trade.

The results identified the U.S. as responsible for more than two-thirds of the trade, nearly 10 times more than the two countries with the next highest volume, the United Kingdom and China. The final tally of verifiable commerce (excluding Latin America results) was approximately $3.8 million in ads and nearly $450,000 in final sales. According to IFAW figures, the demand for ivory products is so great that more than 20,000 elephants are illegally slaughtered annually. "While these figures are already high, they are made even more sobering considering that many sites do not offer an advertised sale price and only eBay provides the means for tracking final sales; a comprehensive tally would likely be much higher," IFAW said. "The results also indicate that this trade is contributing to the endangerment of species."

Under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), African and Asian elephants are supposed to be protected.

EBay announced a ban on cross-border trade in elephant ivory in 2007, meaning that sales across country lines would be prohibited. However, a year after the ban, IFAW said that eBay was responsible for 83 percent of all ivory identified by investigators and a full 63 percent of all trade in this investigation, a significant amount of which shipped internationally.

"This demonstrates one of the key issues in global Internet trade: a strong policy without adequate enforcement is ineffective," the group said. "This very lack of policy enforcement may in fact make eBay the largest digital marketplace in the world for ivory that may violate national or international law or Web site policy."

In the 2008 report about eBay, IFAW said that the total ivory items tracked was 3,667; the dollar value of recorded ivory transactions was $369,885; estimated annual ivory commerce was $3.2 million; estimated commission on ivory sales was $11,445.87; and the estimated eBay ivory profit per year was $127,606.87.

"We simply can't ensure that ivory listed for sale on eBay is in compliance with the complex regulations that govern its sale," said Richard Brewer-Hay, eBay's official blogger on the site. "So, to protect our buyers and sellers, as well as animals in danger of extinction, eBay has decided to institute a global ban on the sale of all types of ivory."

EBay said it will still allow the sale of some antique items that contain a small amount of ivory, such as a table with a small ivory inlay or an antique piano with ivory keys. The company said it classifies "antique" as items that contain a small amount of pre-1900 ivory. The policy takes effect in December and will be enforced in January.

However, items that contain a significant amount of ivory, regardless of the age, such as chess sets, ivory broaches and ivory jewelry, are not permitted under the new policy, eBay said. In addition, the company said it will "work closely" with animal law enforcement agencies and assist them with their investigations.

"This decision is a very important step to help protect them [elephants], said IFAW. "EBay has set the standard for protecting elephants, now governments and other online dealers need to follow their example."

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