A new Obama administration ruling aimed at protecting Africa's endangered elephants is sending shock waves through the music community. Under the new regulations which take effect in June, instruments with even the smallest amount of ivory inlay or string rests are banned without proof that they were purchased prior to 1976. Many violin bows also have small ivory tips. The concern is particularly acute for musicians performing abroad.
A Musical Instrument Passport
"The reason for that is ... we have seen, over the past five to 10 years, a dramatic, alarming and unprecedented increase in the slaughter of African elephants to supply the global ivory trade, and populations of both savannah elephants and forest elephants have dropped precipitously" Craig Hoover, who heads up the Wildlife Trade and Conservation Branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told NPR.
The American Federation of Musicians is advocating for a government issued "musical instrument passport" verifying that an instrument is antique. Musicians can help that effort by taking a confidential survey here.
The new official regulations:
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.