Ivory: What Is and Isn’t Legal to Buy and Sell

If more people understood the misleading laws, these ‘facts’ would not be reported,” says Bobby Mann, noted ivory specialist and past president of the International Ivory Society, Temple Hills, Md. The laws and “facts” he refers to stem from a September CNN news report saying that TRAFFIC, a network that monitors the trade in wildlife, reports increased illegal U.S. ivory trade via Internet sales.

Mann tells JCK that the CNN article, and most consumer information, is simply not true. “Most of what you read is fiction, especially [news regarding] Internet sales. My feeling is most ivory that is sold on eBay is legal,” he says. “Of course there is some illegal ivory being sold, but most is sold by people not really knowing the laws or knowing what they have. A lot of ivory is misrepresented, and this may be because of education in ivory identification. There is a lot of bone listed as ivory and, believe it or not, sometimes ivory is listed as bone.”

According to Cecilia Gardner, executive director and general counsel for the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, no one has filed any concerns regarding alleged sales of illegal ivories.

Mann supplied JCK with a sampling of various ivory laws, recently included in an article he wrote for Antique Weekly. The laws still don’t make it easy to know what one can and cannot buy or sell. “Only a lawyer would understand them,” says Mann. “Even the Fish and Wildlife Department will give conflicting statements. Just compare the answers that you get from the various authorities to the answers that you get if you ask the IRS. They will be similar, and not binding.

“There are many laws governing ivory at both the federal and state levels,” writes Mann. “If you plan on collecting ivory you should become familiar with them. Read the laws listed below in their entirety as well as your own state laws. They are lengthy, complex, and often misinterpreted, so read them carefully and try to understand them.”

Marine Mammal Protection Act: 16 USCS 1361 – 1407: “This generally prohibits or restricts the import, export, possession, take, and sale of marine mammals and their parts and products,” says Mann. Ivory-producing marine mammals include whales, walruses, narwhals, seals, sea lions, sea otters, and polar bears.

Endangered Species Act: (ESA): 16 USCS 1531 – 1544: “This generally prohibits the import, export, possession, take, and sale of species listed as endangered or threatened in interstate or foreign commerce.” Ivory-producing endangered species include elephant, walrus, sperm whale, killer whale, narwhal, hippopotamus, warthog, and wild boar.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species: (CITES): This is the international treaty—signed by more than 140 countries and implemented through the Endangered Species Act—that regulates, and in some cases prohibits, the import and export of wildlife, plants, and animals that are threatened by trade.

African Elephant Conservation Act: 16 USCS 4201 – 4244: “This generally restricts the import and export of African elephant ivory.”

Lacey Act: 16 USCS 3371 – 3378: This prohibits the import, export, transport, sale, or purchase of fish or wildlife taken or possessed in violation of state, federal, Indian tribal, or foreign wildlife law. “Many countries completely ban or restrict wildlife trade,” says Mann.

In a related story, Andy Coghlan of The New Scientist magazine writes about DNA testing to pinpoint the origin of illegal ivory. This new genetic technique will indicate the origin of a specific ivory shipment with an accuracy of 500 to 1,000 kilometers.

For more information on ivories, contact Bobby Mann at mannivorymann@aol.com.