msnbc.com news services
updated 5/15/2007 3:23:11 PM ET 2007-05-15T19:23:11

Illegal ivory trading flourishes on the Internet because online auction sites do too little to enforce laws aimed at protecting endangered wildlife, a wildlife advocacy group says.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, in a report published Tuesday, said Internet users often were able to offer goods such as ivory necklaces for sale without documentation to prove the items were lawful.

An investigation of 2,275 ivory listings during seven days in February — which examined eBay Inc. sites in the United States, Britain, China, and other countries — found laws were not being rigorously enforced, the report says.

More than 90 percent of listings were found to violate eBay's own wildlife policies — designed to stop trading in endangered animals, the group claims.

"What's happening online is that there's a totally unregulated trade," said Robbie Marsland, director of the fund in Britain. "If you stop the selling of ivory, then the killing will stop."

The fund claimed that in a test of the U.S. eBay site, a search for ivory goods returned hundreds of items. The group said it took a random sample of 90 of those listings, of which four were compliant with eBay policies.

On eBay's British site, 10 of 424 ivory listings were found to be compliant, the group's report said.

The site says it acts within 24 to 36 hours to remove prohibited items which users report to administrators. But, of 105 ivory items the fund reported, 75 were still online 48 hours later, the report said.

In a written statement, eBay Inc. said it had policies to "restrict the sale of ivory in accordance with existing U.K. and international law."

“We have had a number of positive and fruitful discussions with the IFAW about how we can work together to ensure that our policies are effectively enforced, and we are committed to working with them to tackle the problem of illegal ivory sales,” eBay said.

The company said it requires sellers to supply documentation proving an item complies with relevant laws.

In Britain, ivory goods made before June 1947 are considered antique and can be traded lawfully under European Union legislation. For the U.S., ivory at least 100 years old can be legally sold.

"It's eBay's responsibility to ensure that what is being sold on its site is legal," said Carol McKenna, who drafted the fund's report.

Marsland urged eBay to ban all trade in ivory. “Elephants are facing extinction, in part because of Internet ivory trade. It is time for action,” he said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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