Millions of Dollars in Ivory Sold on Craigslist

As of late April, Craigslist includes ivory goods on its list of banned items. (Image credit: IFAW)

From kitschy trinkets to carved tusks, thousands of objects — possibly worth more than $15 million a year — are being sold on Craigslist in the United States, according to a report.

From March 16 to 20, researchers with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) combed through Craigslist postings in 28 geographic areas across the country. 

Just in that five-day period, the authors of the new report flagged 456 ivory products, 84 suspected ivory products and 75 related wildlife products (such as elephant skin) for sale, for a combined list price of at least $1.4 million. [In Photos: US Destroys Its Elephant Ivory]

If those numbers are representative of the average pace of the trade, that means 6,600 ivory items are being sold on Craigslist for $15.3 million each year, the authors said.

San Francisco and Los Angeles had the highest numbers of ivory products for sale of any geographic area, the report revealed.

The United States abides by an international CITES treaty that partially banned ivory imports beginning more than 20 years ago. But domestic ivory markets continue to thrive and provide a convenient cover for smuggled ivory products. However, last year, the Obama administration proposed a near-complete ban on the commercial ivory trade in the United States, with exceptions for antiquities.

Many buyers may not realize that ivory objects they can pick up on the Internet could have been sourced from the tusks of one of the estimated 96 elephants illegally killed in Africa each day.

Beyond small pieces of jewelry and trinkets, the researchers classified many of the objects they saw for sale online as kitsch, including a "Japanese ivory erotica figurine" listed for $600 in San Diego and a footstool made from an elephant leg and covered in zebra or antelope hide offered for $700 in Chicago.

At the authors' urging, Craigslist explicitly included ivory products on its index of banned items.

"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," Peter LaFontaine, campaigns officer for IFAW, said in a statement. "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."

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.