The Truth About Ivory
MISUNDERSTOOD IVORY LAWS
Ivory is defined by the U.S. Government as the dentine portion of Mammalian Teeth or Tusks. While this means that all mammal teeth and tusk are ivory, only the teeth and tusk of Mammoth elephant, Fossilized Antigue Whale, Walrus, Hippopotamus, Warthog and Boar are traded commercially. Your own teeth are Ivory, there is no reason that you couldn’t sell one or ship it somewhere in the USA if you wanted! The same is true for most other ivories. You are not allowed by Law to ship out of the USA to another country or visa versa.
Mammoths became “extinct” having died out about 4,000-10,000 years ago. Since there are none alive, they can’t be endangered. There are no laws anywhere in the world prohibiting the sale, use or transportation of Mammoth Ivory products whether in the natural state or in the form of artistic or utilitarian objects.
There are some “extant” large mammals such as the Hippopotamus, Warthog and Boar that are not endangered. Objects carved from their teeth and tusks are not prohibited by any legal authority.
The Elephant is a special case. Ivory from Asian Elephants was banned in 1973. Ivory from the African Elephant was added to the ban in 1989. These bans were at an International level through CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna) Agreement. Even so, things made before these dates can be legal if a certificate of exemption is obtained. So it is far from a complete ban.
In addition, the U.S. Government incorporated the ban on African Elephants by passage of the African Elephant Protection Act. It incorporated the ban into U.S. Law, but like the CITES Ban, exempted items produced before 1989. Also the U.S. Law allows for importation of raw tusk taken on a licensed safari, even today.
Some Whales, such as the Sperm Whale are endangered while the Walrus is not. Both are protected in the USA through the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Again anything older than December 31, 1972 can be exempted. Only Alaskan Natives can harvest and possess Walrus teeth or tusk in their natural state. Authentic Native articles of handicraft which involve Whale or Walrus Ivory that have been significantly altered (carved, scrimshawed, etc) are exempted and anyone can buy or own them. The ban, therefore is really only for natural state teeth or tusk taken after December 31,1972.
There are other laws at the Federal Level such as the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Law, but neither changes the facts cited above. There are also 26 or so States that have their own laws on Ivory as well. But under the Constitution they can not supercede the International Treaties or Federal Statutes on the subject.
Written by Robert Mann, Co-founder of the IIS/International Ivory Society