Fitz Gibbon Law Source for Ivory Update

Understanding Ivory Law

Applique depicting the head of pan, East Greek, about 100 B.C.E., Ivory, courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum

On June 6, 2016, the Department of the Interior published a final rule on the possession, sale, transportation, import and export of African elephant ivory, revising the Code of Federal Regulations to create a virtual ban on the commercial trade in ivory in the US. Certain states followed suit. Ivory laws are complex, overlapping, and subject to discretionary enforcement. Jonathan Riedel, a Fitz Gibbon Law intern and University of New Mexico Law School student, has prepared a guide to both federal and state ivory laws which we are pleased to include in our Resource materials.

Like other Resource materials, the guide is not legal advice.


On June 6, 2016 the Department of the Interior, through the Fish and Wildlife Service, published a final rule which revised the Code of Federal Regulations, Vol. 50, Section 17.40(e). This rule was promulgated under the authority of 16 U.S.C. Section 1533(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for African elephants. This new rule went into effect on July 6, 2016 and provides important regulations that antique art dealers and art collectors need to be aware of and understand.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s final rule builds on and expands restrictions already in place under the African Elephant Conservation Act of 1989 (AfECA). The AfECA imposed a moratorium on importing most African elephant ivory into the United States or exporting African elephant ivory out of the United States.

The final rule now in effect, in conjunction with AfECA and ESA, provide very limited exceptions for importing or exporting ivory to or from the United States. There is a ban on all interstate commercial trade in elephant ivory, again with narrow exceptions. These laws can be daunting for anyone selling, buying, working with, or owning ivory.

In addition to the complicated federal laws. New York, New Jersey, California, and Washington State have even more restrictive laws in place that further complicate lawful trade in antique ivory. Hawaii has also passed an ivory trade law that will go into effect in January 2017.

This article attempts to make sense of the current state of ivory laws in the United States in order to help those who sell, buy, work with, or own ivory understand their rights and responsibilities. Readers should be mindful that although the final federal rule on ivory has been published, there are numerous states with proposed legislation that will continue to impact the ivory trade.....

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