A client asked me the other day, “how strictly does the US Government enforce the trade in legal and illegal ivory?”
So I told them this little story. They are so strict that even the Juggernaut eBay is scared enough of them not to allow the word “ivory” to appear on their site in certain categories. If an item appears in certain categories on eBay with the word “ivory” in it, it sends out a notice for immediate review, and the listing can be immediately taken down. A few years ago I had a long discussion with eBay customer support about a verified antique Japanese okimono I tried to list because I did not understand why my listing was taken down by them when I had disclosed everything. They did not care that I had made the disclosures and that it was clearly pre-ban, antique ivory. What they cared about was that I had the honesty to use the word “ivory” in my listing!
However, eBay’s fear of the US Government only goes so far! Their hypocrisy is tremendous, because if you don’t use the word “ivory” in your listing, you can still sell your real ivory pieces, regardless of age or animal, on their site with relative impunity. There are constantly a large number of real ivory pieces for sale on eBay if you know which key words to use to search. Also, the sellers are “cleaver enough” to use code words like “ox bone”, “bone, “wood”, or use no descriptive word at all, which has taught them that eBay will ignore their listings and not take them down, despite them being real ivory, let alone post-ban ivory. The sellers way around the inability to use the word “ivory” in their listings is circumvented by the use of specific search words and of very clear images and lighting angles in their listings, which show that they are selling real ivory or superior faux ivory. For example, nearly anyone can easily learn to identify real elephant/mammoth ivory in a good photograph by referencing the Schreger pattern/lines (the natural cross-hatched appearance found in all proboscidean ivory), which these sellers some times explicitly show in their images. Here is an excellent example from a listing on eBay today, January 23, 2013, exhibiting exactly this “allowed” behavior, note the search terms “Ox Bone” associated with clear Schreger lines seen on the face and around the neck of the carved figure, let alone the fact that this is clearly an elephant’s ivory tusk: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Huge-Solid-Ox-Bone-Raw-Tusk-L-K-Statue-Head-Sculpture-Bust-Okimono-Netsuke-/121056013400?pt=Asian_Antiques&hash=item1c2f802c58.
I even offered my services to eBay’s legal team, to help purge the real ivory pieces on a daily basis from their site if they wanted to take their “ban” on ivory sales seriously. However, despite being given the eBay legal department’s phone number by the eBay representative, and leaving a message with my contact information and my offer of help, no one ever returned my call! After waiting in vain for a reply, I then called the USFWS and spoke to an officer who is a specialist in endangered species explaining everything noted above. They told me they have been trying to work with eBay for a long time on these issues, but were glad to hear my story and observations, as they had not known of this loop hole.
As a final comment on how seriously USFWS, and in this case the State of New York, takes the illegal trade in ivory, please reference these two New York Times articles that address exactly that. Just this past year, two dealers in NY pleaded guilty to illegal ivory trading charges in NY. The ivory they had in their possession cost an estimated 25 Asian and African Elephants their lives due to poaching! The fines are far too small in my opinion!
Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA. President, Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc. Appraisal Services. Minnesota Sub-Chapter Chairman, The Explorers Club. (888) 355-6939. firstname.lastname@example.org