$1.5 Million Worth of Ivory Is Listed on Craigslist in the US
A new report by two international conservation groups found mountains of listings for ivory products, with very little of it including proper documentation.
Image: guido da rozze/Flickr
When you think of the illegal ivory trade, you might picture the black market, poachers, and seedy criminal operations. In fact, a new report shows illegal ivory can be found much closer to home, including on Craigslist.
The classifieds site hosts a booming ivory market with 456 ivory items posted for sale on the US site within a one-month period, according to a report published Tuesday by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
"We, as the United States, are a major market for ivory," said John Calvelli, the WCS executive vice president for public affairs. Calvelli said though a lot of attention is paid to Asian countries where ivory has deep cultural significance, there is still a lot of work to be done at home. "It is hypocritical for us to be pointing the finger at China or any other country when we have this issue right here."
Between March 16 and 20 of this year, investigators at IFAW and WCS methodically scoured Craigslist for for ivory, suspected ivory (that may be disguised as something else), and other animal products for sale. Since Craigslist posts remain active for 30 days, the team gathered data from 34 consecutive days worth of posts across 28 cities.
They found 522 postings selling 615 items: 456 were ivory, 84 were suspected ivory, and 75 were related wildlife products—such as a $700 footstool made out of an elephant leg they found for sale in Chicago. All of the items totaled a combined list price of $1,429,151.
In 1975, the US signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora: a global agreement to regulate the trade of endangered species. This made it illegal to buy and sell imported ivory in the US, but it didn't prohibit items that were already in the country prior to 1990 (for African elephants) or 1975 (for Asian elephants), including antiques, jewelry, and musical instruments. However, these items are required to have proper documentation.
Though many of the Craigslist listings claimed the items for sale were "pre-ban" or "antique," only 21 items (3 percent) came with any documentation. Though a lack of documentation doesn't prove these aren't pre-ban items, there are plenty of studies that show the illegal trade is alive and well in the US. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, two cities that have been identified as having the largest illegal ivory markets, as much as 90 percent of ivory sold is illegal, according to a report from the National Resources Defense Council.
"You can't tell the difference between old and new, by and large, other than by some of the coloring," Calvelli said, noting poachers often artificially "age" ivory using staining, scratching, and cracking, as detailed in the NRDC report. This makes it very hard to distinguish between legal and illegal ivory, he said.
But Calvelli said there are ways that we can crack down on illegal trade in the US. IFAW and WCS reached out to Craigslist to let them know they were doing this research and earlier this month, Craigslist agreed to ban all ivory from being sold on the site.
However, it's still easy to find items advertised as ivory for sale on the site. A quick search on Tuesday garnered multiple listings in different cities: a brooch in Phoenix, a bracelet in Dallas, an elephant figurine in New York. WCS has started a petition through its 96 Elephants campaign to get users to write letters asking Craigslist to crack down harder and is working with the site to come up with a better solution, including filtering software that could flag administrators to ivory listings.
"The technology exists," Calvelli said. "And I want to believe that the good will is there as well. If they've come out with this statement that they don't want these products on their sites, then I think we can find a solution."