Legislative Alert - The Ivory Ban - ATADA's Position

The Ivory Ban: ATADA’s Position

ATADA is dedicated to the highest standards of dealing and collecting antique tribal art and, as our members are composed of collectors, dealers, and museum staff, ATADA is well positioned, in terms of knowledge and experience, to address the issues surrounding the new Federal ban on Ivory.

In ATADA’s initial estimation, the ivory ban fails on many counts and it will NOT work for the intended purpose. The ivory ban does too little, too late, in order to have any significant impact on African and Asian elephants killed by poachers today. The ivory ban is a piece of “looks good” legislation that does not address the core issue. More importantly for ATADA, it adversely impacts our law-abiding antique dealers, collectors, and museums, no to mentions others, like musicians, who possess legal antique objects made of, or containing, ivory.

ATADA asserts that judging someone who buys or sells a piece of antique ivory art as “guilty until proven innocent” is the wrong methodology to use and it certainly will not prevent the contemporary killing of elephants.  At present, the emphasis of the ivory ban is to divert media attention and resources from the real problem, thereby providing the false impression that it will stop illegal poaching and save the elephant. Unfortunately, it won’t and the reality exists that extinction of the elephant could occur within the next 10 years if we do nothing to stop this issue at the source. The ivory ban, as it exists in the law now, will not extend the lifetime of the elephant by a single day and, concurrently, it penalizes countless of Americans who have done nothing wrong.

At the core, ATADA agrees with the Cato Institute: Americans should work together to save elephants with policies that actually address the problem and which respect people’s basic constitutional rights and liberties. Reports from Africa indicate that one elephant is being killed every 15 minutes. Only direct and immediate action at the source can prevent the elephant from becoming extinct. What is needed is enforcement of existing anti-poaching laws in the country of origin and preservation of habitat. The United States needs to direct funds and efforts at the problem abroad.

ATADA supports approaching the antique ivory trade with clear reason and guidelines. To quote ATADA attorney/collector Roger Fry, “It is ATADA’s position that the illegal killing of elephants for their ivory needs to be stopped at the source. The current proposal imposing prohibitions on the purchasing and selling of old, legally collected ivory in the USA may give the appearance of doing something to stop the illegal killing of elephants but, realistically, it is doubtful that it will save a single animal. The concept of shifting the burden of proof to the seller is inconsistent with our time tested rule that the state has the burden of proof.”

According to the guidelines, in order for an object made of, or containing, ivory to qualify as antique, the current owner must show that the item meets all of the following criteria:

  • It is 100 years or older;
  • It is composed in whole or in part of an ESA-listed species;
  • It has not been repaired or modified with any such species after December 27, 1973; and
  • It is being or was imported through an endangered species “antique port.”

Of particular note for many Native American art collectors is that this ban will NOT affect ivory derived from other species such as walrus, warthog, hippopotamus, mammoth and mastodon. Of course, it is possible to identify elephant ivory from other types of ivory however, as we often emphasize, buyer beware and proceed with caution if you intend to sell or purchase a product made of, or containing, ivory.  When purchasing, be sure to always ask for documentation that shows the species of AND the age of the ivory item you are purchasing. This documentation could include CITES permits or certificates, certified appraisals, documents that detail date and place of manufacture, etc.

To clarify some points about this new Federal Ivory Ban, ATADA defers to the official resource about the regulation as put forth by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  There are basic vocabulary terms, necessary documentation, and understanding of the history of the bundle of the laws that surround this regulation that we recommend everyone with an interest (either commercial or personal) should familiarize themselves with before proceeding with sales/purchases/transfers of ivory antiques.  We strongly recommend consulting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website found athttp://www.fws.gov/international/travel-and-trade/ivory-ban-questions-and-answers.html#2

Here are some more helpful links that add to this conversation:



A short video clip of Representative Fleming discussing the subject of the Federal Ban on Ivory with a Fish and Wildlife Service representative (Representative Fleming makes his key point at about the 5 minute mark):