SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - EBay Inc will institute a global ban on the sale of all ivory products via its online auction site by January 1, after a conservation group found over 4,000 illegal elephant ivory listings by sellers.
African and Asian elephants are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the international Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
"We feel this is the best way to protect the endangered and protected species from which a significant portion of ivory products are derived," eBay said on its blog on Tuesday.
EBay's decision to institute the ban came just before the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) released findings from a three-month investigation in 11 countries.
It showed two-thirds of online commerce in illegal wildlife products were sold through sites run by San Jose, California-based eBay and its affiliates.
The investigation tracked ivory sales and other wildlife products that violate federal and international law.
It uncovered items such as stools made from elephant feet, a cheetah rug sold by a Salt Lake City eBay seller for $154.48 and ivory tusks, including a pair sold on eBay for over $21,000.
"We found over 1,000 items from endangered animals every week," Jeff Flocken, director of the IFAW's Washington D.C. office, said at a press conference. "It may just represent the tip of the iceberg of the trade going on on the Internet."
Every year, more than 20,000 elephants are illegally slaughtered in Africa and Asia to meet demand for ivory products, according to IFAW, which said 73 percent of all product listings in the investigation were elephant ivory.
IFAW said eBay will ban ivory sales using filters on its site. The company has already prohibited cross-border sales of ivory and items made from other endangered or protected species, but IFAW said better enforcement was needed.
EBay already bans such items as firearms, drugs and human body parts. It has come under fire in the past for knock-off luxury items sold on its site, including designer handbags and jewelry.
The company takes down goods it recognizes as fake, but claims it cannot police its vast site without cooperation from brand owners.
EBay said it would still allow the sale of some pre-1900 items that contain a small amount of ivory, such as a table with a small ivory inlay or an antique piano with ivory keys. But items containing a significant amount of ivory, regardless of age, such as ivory chess sets, broaches and jewelry are not permitted under the new policy, eBay said.
Additional reporting by Ajay Kamalakaran in Bangalore, editing by Richard Chang