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The snapshot survey titled Bidding For Extinction was conducted over seven days in the UK, Australia, China, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Canada and the USA. Of the 2200 elephant ivory items tracked on eBay websites, more than 90 per cent of the listings were found to breach even eBay’s own wildlife policies.

In the UK, 424 listings were investigated of which only ten were found to be fully compliant with eBay policy, which reflects international and national legislation designed to protect elephants from commercial exploitation.

While international wildlife trade laws are complex, in general it is illegal to sell carved or uncarved ivory unless it is antique (defined as pre-June 1, 1947 in the UK) and accompanied by a certificate showing proof of age.

IFAW found few eBay sellers providing such information and described eBay’s enforcement of their “largely vague and variable listing rules” as “haphazard and hopelessly overstrained”.

IFAW investigators reported those items that they considered in blatant contravention of eBay rules but – despite eBay UK’s claim to act within 24-36 hours to remove prohibited items – the majority were not removed. Of 105 items that were reported to eBay UK as being suspected illegal ivory, IFAW found that 75 were still listed 48 hours later.

Wildlife trade on the internet – and the ivory trade in particular – will be a major topic at the upcoming June meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Inter-national Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in The Hague.

IFAW believe that the only way to protect the elephant population from poachers is to shut down the markets where illegal ivory can easily be passed off as “antique”.

Robbie Marsland, IFAW UK director, said: “While eBay has taken positive steps over the last years on this issue, these have not brought the desired results. IFAW believe that as the world’s largest online shop window, eBay has a special responsibility to lead the way by banning ivory from their sites.”

Last week IFAW met with eBay global headquarters to present the findings of ‘Bidding for Extinction’ and welcomed assurances that a review of wildlife policies will take place over the coming weeks.

By Roland Arkell