Yesterday, June 6th, 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service released a final rule regarding the importation and exportation of ivory. More severe restrictions and a near total ban on elephant ivory domestic commercial trade have been put in place. This is great news for the elephants of the world and it will undoubtedly decrease the amount of illegal ivory trafficked into the US.


Great news for Elephants

Musicians, led by The League of American Orchestras, have been able to join the conversation and have had their voices heard. There is still quite a bit of confusion about the whole topic with how it pertains to the traveling musician with ivory, so I’m here to clear up these issues. I just spoke with the Fish and Wildlife Service and here’s what I’ve learned.

What Were the Rules?

In order to apply for a CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) Musical Instrument Certificate in the past, you had to prove a few things:

  1. The instrument was purchased before February 25, 2014
  2. The ivory on the instrument was removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976
  3. There is less than 200 grams of elephant ivory total (the de minimis requirement) – this is a little bigger than a cue ball and a large enough amount for almost all instruments

What Has Changed?

That first requirement was a major sticking point and effectively made it impossible for someone to purchase a new-to-them instrument with ivory and travel internationally with it legally. It also raised questions about the ability to sell instruments and bows at all. Fortunately this requirement has been removed (effective July 6th, 2016) and it is now legal to sell these instruments. You can also apply for a CITES permit if you purchase an instrument or bow containing ivory. There is no need to prove the purchase date. Also, you don’t need to get a CITES permit to sell an instrument or bow, only to travel internationally with one.

What Hasn’t Changed?

As I laid out in my previous post, the major issue I had with the whole system was the requirement for inspections leaving and re-entering each country. You must still transit through one of the 18 designated ports during business hours (8am-4pm M-F) in order to avoid any fees ($105 overtime fee).

Designated Ports

The 18 designated ports in the US

If you travel through a nondesignated port, you need a Designated Port Exception Permit ($100) and must pay $238 for the inspection. In order to legally travel with ivory on your instrument/bow you still must apply for the CITES Musical Instrument Certificate and schedule inspections and pay the proper fees. It is still prohibitively expense to drive into Canada or Mexico due to there not being an designated ports along the borders. You still must also prove that the ivory was removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976, which may prove challenging to some owners.


I’m pleased with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s crackdown on illegal ivory and am very happy that musicians now have a voice in the matter. Removing the 2014 purchase cutoff requirement was a logical and good decision.  However, the continual need for inspections at specific locations and specific times still makes traveling internationally a pain. I hope the League of American Orchestras and the FWS continue to discuss this issue and come up with a more streamlined way to use the permit system. The instrument or bow’s ivory does not change and the requirement to have it inspected every time seems an unnecessary burden.

Please write below if you have any questions or comments!