The Illegal Ivory Trade Is Thriving on Craigslist


You can buy just about anything on Craigslist, including ivory and related wildlife items, despite its policy prohibiting the sale of animal parts.

The recently released results of an investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) into the sale of ivory and other elephant products on selected Craigslist sites found that hundreds of postings, worth millions of dollars, were listed for sale "on a no-questions-asked basis."

Despite national and international bans on the trade of ivory and other elephant products, the demand for them continues to drive elephants toward extinction, and it's estimated that just between the years of 2010 and 2012, some 100,000 elephants were slaughtered (an average of one elephant every 15 minutes) for their body parts.

And with the booming ecommerce industry, it has been incredibly hard to track sales of products from endangered species being sold via the internet, in part because of the very loosely enforced policies on third-party platforms such as Craigslist, and because, as IFAW states, the ivory market continues to be "driven by a seemingly bottomless demand" for the products.

The investigation into the sale of ivory products on Craigslist found that during the period of a single week (March 16-20), some 522 postings were found on 28 of Craigslist's city sites, listing more than 600 ivory items, with a total asking price of some $1.5 million. Investigators estimated that if these figures were extended out to a full year, some 6600 ivory products could be listed through the site, with the total price equaling some $15 million.

Craigslist already has a policy prohibiting the sale of animal parts on the site, although that prohibition can only be found in the 'small print' of the policies. According to IFAW, during the investigation the group asked Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster to take action on the issue, and in response, ivory has been explicitly added to the company's "Prohibited Items" list. However, it's still entirely possible for those who sell ivory to simply ignore the guidelines and list ivory and other endangered species products through the site (and other places on the web), a practice which continues to pose a threat to elephants, regardless of the laws or bans on the trade.

"Ivory sales are regulated by a complex web of international, federal and state laws and treaties. While the sale of non-antique/fresh ivory is illegal across the globe, it is still possible to buy anything from a small figurine to a tusk online. Unscrupulous antiques dealers falsely identify ivory from recently killed elephants as antique, and sellers use terms such as “bone” and “faux” to sell illegal ivory online. The current legal ivory trade masks a larger, deadlier illegal ivory trade that is not only decimating elephant populations but feeds organized crime and funds terrorism." - IFAW

What IFAW would like to see happen with Craigslist is that the company would follow the lead of other online marketplaces, such as eBay and Etsy, and work to reduce illegal wildlife trade on its sites, "particularly by using software to identify and remove postings for ivory."

If you'd like to help amplify this message, please sign and share this petition asking Craigslist to stop the sale of all ivory on its platform. The full report from the investigation, ELEPHANT vs. MOUSE -- An Investigation of the Ivory Trade on Craigslist, is available on this page as a PDF.