Updated October 24, 2016

New Ivory Rules Support Musical Instruments

On July 6, 2016, new rules took effect related to both international travel and domestic commerce with musical instruments that contain small quantities of African elephant ivory. The League played a key leadership role in national conversations with White House officials, top leadership at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Congress, and conservation organizations to successfully seek solutions that would address urgent conservation concerns while also protecting international cultural activity.

The rules broaden access to travel permits, allow for domestic interstate commerce in musical instruments containing small quantities of ivory, and very helpfully clarify that legally-crafted musical instruments are not contributing to the African elephant poaching and trafficking crisis.

In announcing the rules to reverse current travel restrictions and provide opportunities for ongoing domestic interstate commerce in musical instruments, the USFWS stated that, “We listened carefully to the legitimate concerns raised by various stakeholder groups and, as a result, are allowing commonsense, narrow exceptions for musicians, musical instrument makers and dealers…to trade items that have minimal amounts of ivory and satisfy other conditions. These items are not drivers of elephant poaching and do not provide cover for traffickers.”

Here are highlights of the new ivory rules, as they relate to musical instruments. Note that the new rules for African elephant ivory are distinct from those for Asian elephant ivory, which is under a higher level of protection. The first step for musicians is to verify the type of ivory in their instruments. Further detail is also available in an extensive USFWS guide, “What Can I do with My Ivory.

  • For international travel, the new rules remove the current prohibition on travel with musical instruments purchased after February 25, 2014 that legally contain African elephant ivory. This removal of the purchase date restriction is a significant improvement. On July 18, 2016, the USFWS issued a revised Director’s Order clarifying the policy change, and musicians who purchased instruments after February 25, 2014 that legally contain ivory are now eligible to apply for a travel permit. Under the new rules, a musical instrument that contains African elephant ivory may qualify for a travel permit if the worked African elephant ivory meets all of the following criteria:
    • The African elephant ivory contained in the instrument was legally acquired and removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976;
    • The instrument containing worked ivory is accompanied by a valid Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) musical instrument certificate or equivalent CITES document;
    • The instrument is securely marked or uniquely identified so that authorities can verify that the certificate corresponds to the musical instrument in question; and
    • The instrument is not sold, traded, or otherwise disposed of while outside the certificate holder’s country of usual residence.

For the requirement that the instrument be “securely marked” or “uniquely identified,” USFWS explains in the rules that “a photograph may be used to identify an item, in place of a mark, as long as the photograph allows a border official to verify that the certificate and the item correspond.”

Further requests of the music community related to easing international travel (PDF) restrictions will be under consideration in separate U.S. rulemaking procedures, and as CITES is renegotiated in 2016.

  • For domestic interstate commerce and foreign commerce, the rules allow the sale of musical instruments that contain “de minimis” amounts of ivory (less than 200 grams), and that were legally crafted and legally imported. Allowances are also made for qualified antiques, 100 years old or older. Sales within states would remain subject to any additional state commerce laws. For instruments less than 100 years old, the following requirements would apply:
  1. If the item is located within the United States, the ivory must have been imported into the United States prior to January 18, 1990, or was imported into the United States under a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) pre-Convention certificate with no limitation on its commercial use;
  1. If the item is located outside the United States, the ivory must have been removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976;
  1. The ivory is a fixed or integral component or components of a larger manufactured or handcrafted item (e.g. tuning pegs) and is not in its current form the primary source of the value of the overall item, that is, the ivory does not account for more than 50 percent of the value of the item;
  1. The ivory is not raw;
  1. The manufactured or handcrafted item is not made wholly or primarily of ivory, that is, the ivory component or components do not account for more than 50 percent of the item by volume;
  1. The total weight of the ivory component or components is less than 200 grams; and
  1. The item was manufactured or handcrafted before July 6, 2016.

200-gram Limit

Value of Ivory

Fixed or Integral Components

Documentation Requirements



Example scenarios:

Next Steps



The content of the League’s Advocacy & Government webpages is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any subject matter. This website should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction.


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