Elephants caught in the web
Conservationists say there's a new threat to the survival of Africa's endangered elephants - the black-market trade in ivory in cyberspace.
Tusks are being illegally bought and sold on countless internet forums and shopping websites worldwide with increasing frequency, according to activists.
Wildlife groups attending the conference of the 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, in Bangkok this week are calling on law enforcement agencies to do something about it.
The elephant slaughter is largely being driven by demand in Asia, where tusks are often carved into tourist trinkets and ornaments.
"The internet is anonymous, it's open 24 hours a day for business, and selling illegal ivory online is a low-risk, high-profit activity for criminals," said Tania McCrea-Steele, the UK senior campaigns and prosecutions officer for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, yesterday.
In one investigation last year, her organisation found 17847 ivory products listed on 13 websites in China, which conservationists call the world's leading destination for "blood ivory".
Illegal ivory trading online is also an issue in the US, including on eBay, and Europe . Ivory is often advertised with code words such as "ox-bone," "white gold", "unburnable bone", or "cold to the touch" and shipped through the mail.
Another conservation advocacy group, the Environmental Investigation Agency, said yesterday that Google Japan's shopping site now has 10000 adverts for ivory.
Google said in an e-mailed response to The Associated Press: "Adverts for products obtained from endangered or threatened species are not allowed on Google. As soon as we detect ads that violate our advertising policies, we remove them."
The agency said it had written to Google CEO Larry Page on February 22 urging the company to remove the adverts. It said Google had not responded or taken down the adverts.
But McCrea-Steele said Google had been "responsive" to urging to stamp out ivory sales.
Over the past 12 months, an estimated 32000 elephants were killed in Africa, according to the Born Free Foundation.