DENVER -- Online sales of illegal ivory are booming in the United States despite a longtime global trade ban, conservationists say.
In a practice that goes virtually unchecked, a new analysis suggests that with a mouse click, customers are buying by the thousands what seem to be new ivory trinkets.
The sale of most new ivory was banned in 1989 to curb the slaughter of elephants in Africa. The ban has been instrumental in the species' recovery in several nations. Consumers still can legally buy items like chess sets and cutlery fashioned from antique ivory as long as the sales are accompanied by permits and certification documents.
Americans have the world's biggest appetite for ivory, along with the Japanese and Europeans. And a new, burgeoning clientele has conservationists especially worried -- the rising middle class in China.
Investigators for TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, say they found more than 1,000 ivory items advertised each week on
Officials with eBay said they were aware of the report, but had no immediate comment.
Most of the ivory items were carved in China, investigators said, but they are being shipped to the United States through as many as 80 other countries.
The wildlife group's report, described as the first of its kind since the ivory trade ban was adopted, also indicates that US Customs agents seized more than 8,300 ivory items at airport and border checkpoints in a seven-year period ending in 2002. Most were inexpensive souvenirs bought by tourists who said they were unaware of the trade ban.
Conservationists calculate that, based on the number of items seized and sold, as many as 4,000 elephants, hippos, and other ivory-bearing animals are being killed each year for their tusks.
The report was issued in anticipation of a meeting network in Bangkok of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or CITES.
Simon Habel, director of TRAFFIC, said the group shared its results with law enforcement agencies and eBay.
Before the ivory trade ban, poachers were slaughtering 100,000 elephants a year, threatening the species' existence in Kenya and other African nations.