Got $50 grand to spare and don’t mind breaking the law? Those could be the consequences of trading in endangered species furs. Suppose you have a genuine leopard skin or ocelot fur coat and want to sell it. You list the coat on eBay with no restrictions and it sells to someone across the country. Not only does that auction violate eBay’s policies, but if the item is shipped to another state or overseas, you’ve also just broken State and Federal laws. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 outlaws trade of any product coming from an endangered animal and the penalties include fines up to $100,000 and/or jail time.
Although common in earlier decades, fur garments from leopard, ocelot, margay and most cat species are now banned. Virtually every species of bear are endangered as well as many types of seal and otter. Furs from these animals and more were once widely available, but are now outlawed or tightly controlled. Sellers and buyers must proceed carefully to ensure they are acting within the law.
Everyone knows that the tiger & cheetah are endangered, but were you aware that the bobcat & Canadian lynx are threatened in most states? Whales & sea turtles are listed, but did you know that taking certain sea shells or digging up cactus plants could be a crime? This illustrates a point: the Endangered Species Act list is lengthy & complex, containing about 2000 species of mammals, birds, fish, crustaceans, insects and plants. It’s frequently updated with animals being added or changed in status. So unless you’re positive the item bought or sold is not from an animal listed as endangered or threatened, it’s advisable to first check to be certain such a transaction is legal.
The US Fish & Wildlife Department is responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act. To determine what permits or licenses are required, they should be consulted before considering any transaction of endangered species materials. (Web links are not allowed in guides, so do a web search for ‘endangered species’ and select the US Fish & Wildlife Dept site.) Some of the regulations under the ESA are quite complicated as with ivory goods, for example. In addition to Federal regulations, many states have their own laws for trading in endangered species goods. Foreign trade is governed under the Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species, so a CITES permit will be needed if the item is imported or shipped across borders.
eBay's Policies for Animal Products
However strict the laws for trade in endangered species goods might seem, eBay’s own rules are even tougher. That’s because eBay cannot research each individual auction to verify the animal products offered don’t violate the law. So their policy must be to ban all such auctions; a blanket policy intended to protect eBay and all its members.
eBay's Rules on Animal & Wildlife Items
In cooperation with Federal authorities, eBay regularly searches for auctions that violate the Endangered Species Act laws or eBay’s internal policies. Auctions may also be reported by individuals who find listings that may be inappropriate. To report a listing you suspect is in violation, click on the ‘Report This Item’ link at the bottom of the auction page, then select 'Prohibited or Banned Items.' The next category is 'Animals, Plants & Wildlife,' followed by the option for 'Regulated or Endangered Species.' The report form then shows the item number and enables you to give a brief description of the problem. After doing so, click on 'Send Report' which forwards the auction to eBay for review.
Auctions violating eBay’s policy for endangered species goods are removed without warning. The seller receives a notice, informing them of the transgression. Breaking the rules can be a costly mistake- you're still charged the listing fees and repeat violations may result in suspension.
Despite the policies, endangered species fur items occasionally appear on eBay, usually listed by sellers unaware of the rules prohibiting them. Though a vintage fur might pre-date the Endangered Species Act and could be sold legally elsewhere, eBay does not allow the vast majority of these listings. Simply stating the item is more than 30 years old is not adequate proof the trade will be legal.
Using evasive wording or mislabeling ES furs to avoid eBay’s searches is hardly a risk worth taking. Ambiguous listings such as spotted fur are not immune if the fur is clearly from an endangered species. Attempting to avoid detection, some sellers auction ES animal furs as a non-endangered species: otter fur labeled as beaver, leopard fur listed as Geoffrey’s cat. But a trained eye can spot the difference as with Geoffrey cat fur, for example. Their pelts are much smaller (housecat size) and the spot pattern differs.
Skirting eBay’s rules is a minor infraction compared to violating Federal law. Even if eBay misses an endangered species item, those auctions may still be reported to the US Fish & Wildlife’s Law Enforcement office. In April 2006, a Pennsylvania man who sold goods on eBay was sentenced to 25 months in jail for trading in big cat skins. One buyer he'd made internet sales to was an undercover USFW investigator. You may temporarily profit from selling an endangered species fur coat by not typing ocelot or sealskin into the listing, but could later find yourself explaining to Federal law enforcement officers.
The Unfortunate Consequences
For buyers also, there can be unexpected consequences for those seeking exotic furs. Confusing auction titles and mistitled goods can result in buyers purchasing fur items with no clear idea of its origin. ‘Lipi cat’ furs for example and some listings titled ‘leopard cat’ are not wild animal furs at all, but garments made from DOMESTIC CAT breeds. In many Asian countries without laws to protect them, these ordinary house cats are warehoused & slaughtered; breeds such as the Bengal, Spangled, Egyptian Mau and Ocicat are all used for their leopard-like skins. Buyers should avoid obscurely labeled furs, those of questionable origin and Asian-made fur garments for this reason.
eBay Guide - Lipi Cat, Coyote and Wolf Furs from Asia
The demand for genuine cat furs ultimately puts endangered animals at risk by encouraging poachers and shifts attention to species with similar fur patterns. The Geoffrey cat, American lynx, bobcat, Amur leopard cat and other felines are jeopardized thanks to the current popularity of spotted fur. Buyers wanting the leopard look in a genuine fur should insist on printed or stenciled fur instead of actual cat fur of any kind.
Note: Photos in this guide used with permission. eBay policy forbids me from mentioning the name of the organization providing pictures for this guide. However, they're a non-profit group devoted to saving large felines and the name sounds like 'dig that fescue' ! This guide is intended for the use of eBay and its members and may not be copied or reproduced without my expressed consent. (See eBay’s rules under the VeRO Program: Verified Rights of Owners Intellectual property.)
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