Here’s the deal. There is a federal law called the Endangered Species Act that is supposed to regulate or restrict ivory and/or illegal wildlife and products in the US. However, what many people may not realize is that once ivory is already inside a state and put up for sale the federal government leaves it up to the individual states to impose their own state regulations.
The federal law will not come into a state and get involved with the sale of Endangered Species Act listed species. It only deals with interstate (ivory moving through a port or across state lines) sales and not intrastate sales (ivory that is already within a state).
Yes, it’s confusing…but it’s the federal government after all.
When it comes to ivory that loophole is an antique. Anyone can take their “antique” ivory and sell it as long as they have what’s called a pre-ban certificate. In 1989 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, voted to ban the trade of ivory beginning in 1990.
So all anyone needed was a pre-ban certificate stating that their piece of ivory was indeed taken from an elephant that died before 1990 and then it could be sold. The problem was that thousands, if not millions of certificates have been forged (don’t get me started). And to make matters even worse a few, quite talented artists in the Middle East figured out some pretty amazing ways to make fresh ivory look like Mammoth (which is still legal) or antique, fooling even some of the world’s greatest experts.
I must say, those artists make a fairly good argument for why we should keep art classes in schools.
The only real way to tell if ivory is indeed antique is to have a chemical test performed, similar to that of DNA. It is expensive and time consuming so no one does it because after all…there’s that incredibly convenient loophole.
What can be done to stop it?
Individual states can adopt stronger protections that go further than the federal law. New Jersey, New York, California and Washington have already raised the ante by passing laws in 2015. While it isn’t a felony if one is caught selling ivory within their states, the restrictions imposed are closer aligned with those of a felony than with a misdemeanor.
Vermont recently voted to make ivory illegal within their state and in Oregon, we are working hard to “take this to the people” by getting it on the November 2016 ballot. Behind us are 16 other states waiting in the wings with similar measures on their tables. Change is beginning to happen.
And yes, there are exemptions for all you musicians out there. Since most stringed instruments have a small amount of ivory most states have included an exemption of approximately 5 ounces or less. If you have a piano with ivory keys, you should be well within the margin. If your grandmother has passed down an ivory necklace with sentimental value – go ahead and give it to your children, we don’t care.
But if you’re a trophy hunter with a newly acquired ivory tusk that you would like to sell on the open market…well we’ve just made things a bit harder for you.
Want to find out what your state is up to regarding this issue? Check back here as we will be putting up state-by-state links so that you can get involved where you live. If one state passes a law it might not make that big of a difference but when half the country does it…now we’re on to something.
If you’d like to know more about the federal restrictions click here.
If you want to more about how the pre-ban certificate became such a hot mess click here.