Disguising Elephant Ivory as Other Materials in the Online Trade

Jan 5, 2021 | Studies

By Sofia Venturini and David L. Roberts


Despite efforts of law enforcement, tech companies and other stakeholders, the illegal online trade in wildlife products continues to increase. A particular problem in tackling this online illicit trade is the misdescription of item materials, making the search for internationally CITES regulated materials, such as elephant ivory, challenging. We investigated the issue of misrepresentation of materials in item descriptions by studying the trade in netsuke, carved objects, attached to the cord of the kimono, originally from 17th century Japan, that are often made of elephant ivory. The study, conducted on the online marketplace, eBay, in the United Kingdom, shows that elephant ivory is still sold in spite of eBay’s policy on ivory. While the netsuke trade is small, elephant ivory was most frequently described as cow bone. Our results also indicated that, among the items identified as elephant ivory, only a small fraction were actually detected and removed by eBay. To discourage the sale of ivory items, eBay should increase its efforts to implement its policy banning the trade in ivory. Further, eBay could consider additional restrictions on the range of words that can be used by the vendors in all of the item listing fields.

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