Q. To what extent is ivory consumption in the U.S. contributing to the African elephant poaching crisis?
A. While the largest ivory consumer nations are in Asia, the U.S. has one of the bigger markets globally. U.S. law enforcement has made several busts over the last few years as part of Operation Crash, resulting in several arrests and the confiscation of millions of dollars worth of illegal ivory. Much of this ivory came from the 100,000 African elephants that were poached from 2010 to 2012. That's approximately 96 elephants killed per day or 1 every 15 minutes.
Q. How will stopping the sale of legal ivory help save elephants?
A. Legal domestic ivory markets are an enforcement challenge and often serve to provide cover for the laundering of ivory from illegally killed elephants in Africa. Currently only a small percentage of illegal ivory and other wildlife products is confiscated at our borders. INTERPOL estimates that seizures represent only 10 percent of the actual amount of trafficked goods. Once illegal ivory is within the U.S.'s borders, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish legal, pre-convention ivory from illegal ivory. As long as demand for ivory remains high and enforcement capacity is low, the legal trade will continue to serve as a front for the black market and criminal syndicates will continue to drive elephant poaching across Africa.
Q. What is the new U.S. ivory ban?
A. The new U.S. ivory ban will legally close most ivory trade in the U.S. to protect elephants. It essentially prohibits all commercial import, export, and interstate trade of African elephant ivory with some narrow exceptions. Those exceptions include commercial export and interstate trade of items that meet the Endangered Species Act's antique exemption criteria, and interstate trade of certain manufactured or handcrafted items that contain a small (de minimis) amount of legally imported ivory. The final rule went into effect on July 6, 2016. For more information on the U.S.'s ivory ban, visit
Final U.S. Ivory Ban or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Questions and Answers.
Q. How does the final U.S. ivory ban impact the sale of ivory products within states?
A. The newly released U.S. ivory ban applies to commercial import, export, and interstate trade (sales across state lines) of ivory products. State ivory bans largely focus on intrastate transactions (sales within a state) and complement the U.S. ban with more stringent laws in place locally. Where the state bans do include import or interstate, the U.S. ban will take precedence. However, the U.S. ban will not impact the primary portion of state bans which applies to sales within a state.
Q. Are state bans still needed?
A. With only 10% of illegal ivory confiscated at our borders, a significant portion of illegal ivory makes its way into the marketplace where it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish from older, legal ivory. While the U.S. ban will increase restrictions on imports, exports and the interstate trade of ivory, until ivory markets are shut down
within states, illegal ivory will continue to leak into the marketplace. Therefore, it is all the more important to have law enforcement engaged at both the state and federal levels. States can take legislative or regulatory action to ban all intrastate ivory sales to eliminate this enforcement challenge and close down the illegal trade.
Q. Will federal or state ivory bans take away my right to possess or pass down my ivory to family members?
A. The U.S. ivory ban does not limit the right to possess or pass down ivory to family members. No current state ivory ban restricts the possession or inheritance of ivory, rhino horn, or any of the wildlife products covered in the law. Therefore, residents are free to keep their ivory items, or pass them down to family members.
Q. Will the federal or state ivory bans take away my right to sell my instrument with small amounts of ivory?
A. The U.S. ivory ban contains an exception for small (
de minimis) amount of legally imported ivory, which could allow the sale of some musical instruments. New York, California, Washington and Hawaii all provide exemptions for musical instruments with less than 20 percent ivory by volume as long as they have historical documentation showing the item was manufactured no later than 1975.
Q. What is the problem with jewelry and netsuke?
A. In large part, illegal ivory is carved into jewelry, netsuke and trinkets that are often marketed as antiques. The difficulty with enforcing laws around carved or worked ivory is that is impossible to visually determine the age of the ivory in the item. Strong historical documentation including a CITES certificate is required. While radio carbon dating technology can be utilized in very limited situations to determine the age of ivory, it is expensive ($500/test), invasive (can damage or destroy the item) and does not provide conclusive evidence regarding when the ivory was harvested. A tusk grows over the course of an elephant's life, often up to 60 years, with the tip being the oldest part and the dentin closest to the elephant's jaw the youngest. Because of this, pieces of ivory from an elephant killed illegally last year could very well be dated prior to 1989. Although the U.S. exempts antiques as defined in the Endangered Species Act, states can provide stricter laws within their borders to prevent illegal ivory disguised as antique from entering the marketplace.
Q. Why is it necessary to include mammoth ivory in state ivory bans?
A. Prohibiting the sale of mammoth ivory at the state level is an important part of cracking down on illegal elephant ivory sales because the ability to mix mammoth and elephant ivory together along the trade chain and at its point of sale is one of ways that elephant ivory is smuggled into the United States and sold in stores as mammoth or bone. In fact, a recent online investigation of ivory sales in Hawaii documented several examples of this practice to avoid detection by authorities. Finally, while some trained ivory experts can distinguish mammoth from elephant ivory by conducting invasive DNA tests, and occasionally by analyzing the ivory's different "Schreger patterns" it is unrealistic for state enforcement agents to deploy such techniques widely and Schreger patterns are not always readily detectable once ivory has been carved.
Q. What support is there within Asian nations for stopping the ivory trade?
A. There is a great deal of support for ending the ivory trade within the Asian countries. Indeed, recent polling conducted by WildAid in the Chinese cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai found that 95% of respondents supported an ivory ban, while an equal percentage favored stricter punishments for rhino horn trade offenders. This change in public sentiment in China has influenced the Chinese government to respond to the poaching crisis. Over the course of several announcements made in 2015 and 2016, the Chinese government banned carved African ivory imports for one year and promised to establish a timeline for a domestic ivory trade ban and restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies later this year.