The Ban on Ivory: A Primer for Musicians, Piano Tuners and Rebuilders

Posted: March 23, 2014 in Piano

ivory piano keys
The fate of the restoration of ivory piano keys depends on the interpretations and enforcement of the new ivory ban.

Critics and advocates are weighing in with opinions about the Obama Administration’s recent announcement of a ban on imports and exports of ivory. The Fish and Wildlife Service ( has published a wealth of information about the new law which is required reading for any piano tuner who wants to speak intelligently on the topic in service to piano customers.  Reading the history of the Endangered Species Act, the timeline of its development, and an overview of the general statements which define the new order regulating ivory will only enhance a piano tuner’s understanding. Links to current articles are provided below which cover these and other relevant topics. Links open in new tabs or windows. Articles are excerpted with information relevant to piano trade.

Definition of Endangered Species Act (ESA) by Fish and Wildlife Services

History and Background

Fish and Wildlife Services is under the U.S. Department of the Interior

African elephants  Background

Pre-2014 Reports and Links: Timeline on China and the (Illegal) Trade in Ivory

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) Video explains the history, background and implementation of the ESA

A History of the Endangered Species Act of 1973

The Timeline of Activities Related to ESA

White House Pre-Order Release

USFWS Moves to Ban Commercial Elephant Ivory and Rhino Horn Trade

Musicians and Musical Instrument Manufacturers

How will the commercial and noncommercial use of musical instruments containing elephant ivory be affected?

Commercial import of musical instruments containing African elephant ivory will be prohibited.
Commercial export and sale in interstate commerce will be prohibited without an ESA permit.

Orchestras, professional musicians and similar entities will be allowed to import certain musical instruments containing African elephant ivory if the instruments qualify as pre-Convention and are not destined to be sold. Worked African elephant ivory imported as part of a musical instrument will continue to be allowed provided the worked ivory was legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976; the worked elephant ivory has not subsequently been transferred from one person to another person in pursuit of financial gain or profit; and the item is accompanied by a valid CITES musical instrument passport or CITES traveling exhibition certificate.

The import, export and sale in interstate commerce of non-antique specimens of other ESA-listed species continue to be prohibited without an ESA permit.  Antique musical instruments made of endangered species that are already here in the United States may continue to be sold in interstate commerce without an ESA permit provided the seller can prove the specimen meets the definition of an antique under the ESA.

With finalization of the ”use-after-import” provisions in our CITES regulations, species listed in CITES Appendix I or in Appendix II with an annotation for noncommercial purposes (such as African and Asian elephant or sea turtle) may only be used for noncommercial purposes unless  it can be proved that the specimen was imported prior to the restrictive listing.

Can ivory be imported to manufacture new musical instruments?

Our CITES regulations (50 CFR 23.55) place limits on how CITES Appendix-I and certain Appendix-II specimens may be used after import into the United States. The purpose is to prevent commercial use of specimens after import into the United States when only noncommercial trade is allowed under CITES. We are in the process of finalizing a proposed rule updating our CITES regulations, including amendments to the “use-after-import” provisions. Use after import of Appendix-I specimens is limited to noncommercial purposes except when a person can demonstrate that the specimens were imported before the species was listed in Appendix I, or they were imported under a pre-Convention certificate or other CITES exemption document.  For further information, see our answers on antiques, personally owned items and musical instruments.

FACT SHEET: National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking & Commercial Ban on Trade in Elephant Ivory

Today the United States announced a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking.  The Strategy will strengthen U.S. leadership on addressing the serious and urgent conservation and global security threat posed by illegal trade in wildlife.


The National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking establishes guiding principles for U.S. efforts to stem illegal trade in wildlife.  It sets three strategic priorities: strengthening domestic and global enforcement; reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife at home and abroad; and strengthening partnerships with international partners, local communities, NGOs, private industry, and others to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trade.


Today we are also announcing a ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory, which will enhance our ability to protect elephants by prohibiting commercial imports, exports and domestic sale of ivory, with a very limited number of exceptions.  This ban is the best way to help ensure that U.S. markets do not contribute to the further decline of African elephants in the wild.

To begin implementing these new controls, federal Departments and Agencies will immediately undertake administrative actions to:

  • Prohibit Commercial Import of African Elephant Ivory: All commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques, will be prohibited.
  • Prohibit Commercial Export of Elephant Ivory:  All commercial exports will be prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, certain noncommercial items, and in exceptional circumstances permitted under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Significantly Restrict Domestic Resale of Elephant Ivory:  We will finalize a proposed rule that will reaffirm and clarify that sales across state lines are prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, and will prohibit sales within a state unless the seller can demonstrate an item was lawfully imported prior to 1990 for African elephants and 1975 for Asian elephants, or under an exemption document.
  • Clarify the Definition of “Antique”:  To qualify as an antique, an item must be more than 100 years old and meet other requirements under the Endangered Species Act.  The onus will now fall on the importer, exporter, or seller to demonstrate that an item meets these criteria.
  • Restore Endangered Species Act Protection for African Elephants:  We will revoke a previous Fish and Wildlife Service special rule that had relaxed Endangered Species Act restrictions on African elephant ivory trade.
  • Support Limited Sport-hunting of African Elephants:  We will limit the number of African elephant sport-hunted trophies that an individual can import to two per hunter per year.

The actual order can be found at this here.


Media Announcements

Obama Bans U.S. Commercial Trade of Elephant Ivory

U.S. Confronts Wildlife Trafficking With Ivory Trade Ban

Nations unite in London to declare a new stand against the ivory trade

Opinion Articles

The Horrible Lacey Act & The Gibson Guitar Raids

Good News–US Domestic Ivory Ban Announced

China demand for ivory tops talks – Black-market fears

Excerpt: Cites officials say China’s enforcement of the laws on illegal trade in ivory are satisfactory. But environmental groups disagree. They claim that elephant ivory is a booming black-market commodity worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and that China is the biggest customer.

Domestic Ivory Ban Crushes Small Businesses

U.S. Efforts to Control Illegal Elephant Ivory Trade and Internal Markets

“The Federal Government is about to crush small businesses across the United States in the name of stopping elephant poachers in Africa. Unless regulators and law makers get up to speed about an emotional issue that could drive a knee-jerk reaction at the expense of jobs, hundreds of law abiding businesses and art collectors will be hurt by an unnecessarily heavy-handed policy.

On February 11, 2014, the White House along with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) announced the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking & Commercial Ban on Trade in Elephant Ivory. Without input from the legislative branch, the executive branch announced its plan to do everything in its power to criminalize the domestic trade of elephant ivory and any items that contain ivory. Full policy implementation would make it practically impossible to sell, refurbish, repair, embellish or otherwise transfer ownership of anything containing elephant ivory, rendering those items worthless. While talking at length about the emotionally charged topic of elephant poaching in Africa, the policy only superficially addresses the successful measures the United

States already has taken or how this policy will hurt people who have never broken any laws or contributed to elephant poaching.

Unlike the current policy, the USFWS (the agency with primary responsibility for regulating ivory) issued a 2012 Fact

Sheet acknowledging the effectiveness of current laws by stating they “do not believe that there is a significant illegal ivory trade into this country.”

People with musical instruments won’t be able to repair or refurbish them, and artisans who dedicated a lifetime to learning their craft will become obsolete if not criminal.

Instead of a heavy-handed ban that will expand the international black market, officials would be wise to tighten areas where illegal ivory could leak through the system. …

The speed with which this domestic ban is being implemented has taken most businesses by surprise. …”

Call to Action

“Businesses, art collectors and everyone concerned about the domestic ivory ban need to act now. Start by contacting Senators and Members of Congress to inform them on the issues. Because time is of the essence, phone calls are best with follow-up e-mails. Find your Member of Congress here, Senators here.

Second, spread the word among your peers and your customers. This isn’t just about poached elephants – it is about people losing their livelihoods and/or their investment in treasured items unnecessarily. The other side of this story needs to get out, and the people who are affected need to tell it.”


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