Ivory trade in the US: Items worth $1.5million sold on Craigslist, campaigners say

Website has recently updated its policy to include a statement prohibiting the sale of ivory, but campaigners say more must be done

James Rush
Tuesday 05 May 2015 15:49 BST
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Ivory stock seized in Lome's autonomous port, as it is diplayed at the Security minister in Lome, on 4 February, 2014
Ivory stock seized in Lome's autonomous port, as it is diplayed at the Security minister in Lome, on 4 February, 2014 (EMILE KOUTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of pieces of ivory worth millions of dollars are being sold on Craiglist each year, according to estimates in a report into the wildlife trade on the website.

Wildlife campaigners found a total of 615 individual ivory, suspected ivory or related wildlife products with a combined price of nearly $1.5m on 28 geographic Craigslist sub-sites over the course of five days in March as part of the investigation.

Researchers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) now claim if the figure was extrapolated to a full year, it would mean over a year more than 6,600 items were being sold for a combined total of more than $15.3m on these 28 sites alone. According to the authors of the report, there are more than 420 Craigslist sub-sites across the US.

It is believed 96 elephants are killed each day by poachers in Africa – as many as 35,000 each year. According to estimates, forest elephants in Central Africa will be extinct within the next ten years if the current rates continue.

Staff from Malawi's Department of Parks and Wildlife stand in front of a pile of elephant ivory tusks in April 2015 (AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images)

Campaigners are now calling on Craigslist to take further action to try and stop the trade of ivory on its site.

According to the report's authors, researchers tracked a total of 522 postings offering more than 615 individual ivory, suspected ivory or related wildlife products between 16 March and 20 March this year.

Of those items, a total of 456 were ivory, 84 were suspected ivory and 75 were related wildlife products.

Ifaw campaigns officer Peter LaFontaine said: "The situation on Craigslist shows just how rampant wildlife trade is on the internet, especially when host sites don't do enough to stop it.

"eBay, Etsy and many other online marketplaces have willingly cooperated with law enforcement to reduce wildlife trafficking on their platforms.

"Craigslist's decision to explicitly list ivory among the site’s prohibited items is a step in the right direction, but they must do more to actively enforce this policy and eliminate ivory sales from their site."

The Ifaw and WCS contacted Craigslist prior to the release of the report last week to urge them to prevent the sale of ivory on its site.

As a result, Craigslist has now updated its policy to include ivory among a list of items prohibited to be sold on the site.

John Calvelli, WCS executive vice president for public affairs and director of the 96 Elephants campaign, said: "This important investigation shows that ivory markets are still open and prevalent in the US.

"WCS and 96 Elephants are focused on stopping the killing, stopping the trafficking, and stopping the demand, and we are hopeful that this report will shed light on the need to close domestic ivory markets."

According to the report, many of the items on sale were "notable only for the kitsch value" – including a "Japanese ivory erotica figurine", listed for $600 in San Diego, and a 12-inch Bowie Knife with an ivory handle on sale for $2,500 in Dallas.

Items also included ivory jewellery and small carvings.

According to the report, the US has historically been one of the largest markets in the world for ivory and other wildlife products.

Federal and state initiatives, however, are currently underway to try and curtail the trade in such products, according to IFAW and WCS.

New York and New Jersey both last year passed state bans to help prevent the trade.

The report comes as the governments of both the UAE and the Republic of Congo publicly destroyed their ivory stockpiles last week.

The two countries followed in the footsteps of the world's poorest country Malawi, which set fire to ivory worth more than £5m in March in a gesture designed to demonstrate its commitment to wildlife conservation and the fight against wildlife crime.

Craigslist has been approached by The Independent for comment.

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