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Do you own ivory?

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How do I know that the ivory I have is from an African elephant?

If you have traveled around the world and in the process, have purchased souvenirs, gifts, or mementos, chances are some are made of ivory. I am thinking of jewelry for loved ones, chess sets, and decorative items that we may have acquired ourselves or have been given to us by others over our lifetimes.

If you have such an ivory item or items, you might want to be aware of the latest ruling by the US government concerning the sale and disposition of items comprised of African elephant ivory.

Before I get into the details, I want to make it clear that I am entirely in favor of protecting these magnificent creatures from the lower than scum people who prey on them for their ivory, and for those who knowingly support this crime by purchasing the ivory or the products made from the ivory. All parties knowingly taking part in this barbaric crime should be prosecuted and punished.

Having said that, most of what ivory we may possess came into our hands earlier than the ban on importing and before we were aware of the wholesale slaughter of African elephants for their ivory.

The ruling by the US Government (specifically the US Fish and Wildlife Service) separates possession of the elephant ivory into two groups, one commercial use and the other personally owned.  Obviously, we will only deal with the latter here.

I would guess the first question anyone has would be “how do I know that the ivory I have is from an African elephant?”. In short the ruling states that anyone who has ivory he or she wants to sell must first prove when, where, and how the ivory was obtained; and if you cannot provide proof that the ivory is “legal” it can be confiscated and you can be fined.

Like with the IRS, you have the burden of proof and you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent. So the answer to “how do I know” is that you have to find out at your expense.

There are other sources of ivory that are not subject to this ruling: Walrus and whale ivory, Asian elephant, and even ivory from extinct species, such as mammoths and mastodons, are exempt and, for now, legal to own and sell or pass on to others.

Under some circumstances, African elephant ivory is legal and can be sold. First it must be more than 100 years old, has not been repaired or modified, and was brought into the US before Sept. 22, 1982.  There are some ports that can still legally import the ivory and the US keeps a list of those.  Second, if what you have is comprised of only 200 grams or less of the ivory and the ivory comprises less than 50 percent of the value of what you own.

How we are supposed to be able to prove that we hold a legal piece of ivory gets a little complicated. I am told that (for now) if the item we have has been legally purchased, it won’t be confiscated.

If we want to buy or sell ivory, we can do so within our state, provided that we are in compliance with State law (if you are in California, be very careful to comply, their laws are very strict, as are other states) and can provide proof that our ivory falls under the legal description above. Such proof from you could be a government issued certificate, called a CITES preconvention certificate; providing proof it was imported prior to Jan. 18, 1990; a DNA test; or photos or documentation supporting your claim.

I am not an attorney, nor do I pretend to understand this ruling in its entirety, but it seems to me that with few exceptions, you cannot sell anything of which you cannot document its legality. You can move things across state lines only if they are either in your household move or as an inheritance or if it is in a musical instrument like ivory keys on a piano. Otherwise you cannot liquidate it for cash.

In sum, as of now it appears that we can hold on to what we have purchased, but we must be careful (in some states) in making it an inheritance and we probably cannot sell it without the documentation mentioned above.

Should you have any questions about what to do with any item you possess, I strongly urge consulting a local attorney whose expertise includes this subject. And, of course, I would caution you to be very careful if you are considering purchasing an item made of ivory and require documentation from the seller attesting to its legality.

For a complete look at the ruling refer to:

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revision of the Section 4(d) Rule for the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Billing Code 4333-15 DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service
50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–HQ–IA–2013–0091] [96300–1671–0000–R4] RIN 1018–AX84

By Published On: August 14, 2016Categories: Antiques & Collectibles0 Comments on Do you own ivory?Tags:

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About the Author: Dennis F.

Dennis has lived or traveled in Australia, the United States and Asia. He is an Army veteran with a PhD in Child and Developmental Psychology. He currently lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina, USA, with his wife Nancy and two dogs. Dennis is keenly interested in antiques, particularly militaria and coins. He occupies his time researching and writing for The Silver Life and caretaking houses for the summer residents of the mountains. Dennis is a founding member of The Silver Life.

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