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03/06/2013

How the Internet is speeding up the extinction of elephants, rhinos

Ivory
In this Jan. 4, ivory tusks are displayed after being confiscated by Hong Kong Customs in Hong Kong. A conservation group claims that Google has something in common with illicit ivory traders in China and Thailand. The Environmental Investigation Agency, a conservation advocacy group, said in a statement Tuesday  that there are some 10,000 ads on Google Japan's shopping site that promote the sale of ivory. (Kin Cheung/AP)

What is the connection between African ivory, rhino horns and the Internet?

According to conservationists, the Internet is the new threat to the survival of Africa’s endangered wildlife.

Illegal tusks and rhino horns are being traded on countless website forums, including Google, with increasing frequency, according to activists. Wildlife groups attending the 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Bangkok this week are calling on global law enforcement agencies to do something about it.   

“The Internet is anonymous, it is open 24 hours a day for business, and selling illegal ivory online is a low-risk, high-profit activity for criminals,” Tania McCrea-Steele of the International Fund for Animal Welfare told The Associated Press.

Ivory is often advertised with code words like “ox-bone,” “'white gold,” “'unburnable bone,” or “cold to the touch,” and shipped through the mail.

Derek Mead wrote a fascinating account of his quest for rhino horn online — it was as easy to find as clothes on ebay.

There were up to 5 million elephants in Africa 70 years ago. Today, just several hundred thousand are left. Over the past 12 months, an estimated 32,000 elephants were killed in Africa.

Blackmarket ivory sells for about $1,300 per pound. Rhino horns, depending on their weight, are between $500,000 to as much as $3 million.

Meanwhile, wildlife experts say that illegal ivory trade is hastening the decline of already endangered elephants throughout Africa.

A report issued Wednesday at the 178-nation CITES conference says that in the past decade, the number of elephants killed has doubled and the amount of ivory seized has tripled.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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