SAN FRANCISCO — EBay Inc. will halt the sale of ivory on its websites, a company spokeswoman said Tuesday, after an investigation by an animal welfare group found the online auction giant was listing thousands of animal products taken from endangered species.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare concluded that two-thirds of the questionable items available online globally were being offered on EBay and its affiliates.
Elephant products, predominantly ivory, were the most common items offered, accounting for 73% of all suspect items listed, the three-month probe found. Exotic birds accounted for nearly 20% of the questionable listings.
Barbara Cartwright, the organization's campaigns manager, said the examination of 183 Internet sites "uncovered a massive network of sellers and buyers . . . who use Internet sites to bypass national and international prohibitions on the sale of endangered and protected animals."
The Massachusetts-based animal welfare group shared its findings with EBay four weeks ago. The company posted an announcement of the ban on its website Monday, a move applauded by the group.
Nichola Sharpe, an EBay spokeswoman, said the ban, which takes effect Jan. 1, would include antique ivory items that are legal to sell. The move is aimed at keeping newer items from being sold as antiques.
"We don't allow anything illegal to be sold on the site," she said. "We are going above and beyond the law."
The study found more than 7,100 items from endangered and protected species offered for sale. Of these, the group concluded that 2,413 were likely to be in clear violation the law, while an additional 4,067 were deemed possible violations.
Sellers in the United States were responsible for more than 70% of the sales, the investigation found. One U.S. seller offered 383 ivory pieces for sale -- more than all the animal items offered in France during the study period.
Cartwright said information on suspect vendors would be given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces endangered species laws.
Items offered for sale on websites included big-cat skins, rhinoceros horns and luggage made from crocodile and caiman skins. One purchaser bought a pair of elephant tusks on EBay for more than $20,000, the group said.
Jeffrey Flocken, director of the animal welfare group's Washington office, said online buyers might not recognize the harm being done through online transactions.
"Behind every real spotted fur coat there is a dead leopard or jaguar," he said. "Behind every piece of ivory bought on the Web there is a dead elephant. These are the costs of shopping online for endangered wildlife and wildlife products."