Google is helping to fuel a dramatic surge in ivory demand in Asia that is killing African elephants at record levels, a conservation group claimed on Tuesday. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said there are some 10,000 ads on Google Japan's shopping site that promote the sale of ivory. About 80% of the ads are for "hanko," small wooden stamps widely used in Japan to affix signature seals to official documents. The rest are carvings and other small objects.
Hanko are used for everything from renting a house to opening a bank account. The stamps are legal and typically inlaid with ivory lettering. The EIA said Japan's hanko sales are a "major demand driver for elephant ivory (and) have contributed to the wide-scale resumption of elephant poaching across Africa."
Google said in an emailed response: "Ads for products obtained from endangered or threatened species are not allowed on Google. As soon as we detect ads that violate our advertising policies, we remove them." The EIA said it had written a letter to Google chief executive, Larry Page, on 22 February, urging the company to remove the ads because they violate Google's own policies. It said Google had not responded to the letter or taken down the advertisements. "While elephants are being mass slaughtered across Africa to produce ivory trinkets, it is shocking to discover that Google, with the massive resources it has at its disposal, is failing to enforce its own policies designed to help protect endangered elephants," said Allan Thorton, the US-based president of the EIA.
Curbing the trade in so-called "blood ivory" is at the top of the agenda of the 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or Cites, that is meeting in Bangkok this week to discuss how to protect the planet's biodiversity by regulating the legal trade of flora and fauna and clamping down on smuggling.
Google's advertising policies state that Google "doesn't allow the promotion of products obtained from endangered or threatened species," including elephant tusks, rhino horns and products made from whales, sharks and dolphins. Thorton said the policies were laudable "but sadly these are not being enforced and that's devastating."