On June 20th 2014, lawmakers in Albany passed new legislation that places a permanent ban on the sale of elephant ivory, mammoth ivory and rhino horn. For antique dealers and collectors, the new law enforces strict criteria by which ivory objects can be sold:
1. They must be at least 100 years old antiques and be comprised of less than 20 percent elephant ivory with documented proof of provenance.
2. Musical instruments (string, wind and piano) manufactured prior to 1975.
3. Elephant ivory where transfer of ownership is for education and scientific purposes including to a museum authorized by a special charter from the legislature.
4. Elephant ivory where transfer is to a legal beneficiary of a trust or estate.
The fines and penalties for breaking the law are very steep.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “with the passage of this bill, New York State has taken another step forward in the fight against the illegal ivory trade. We will not allow this dangerous and cruel industry to thrive in our State, and this bill ensures that by restricting the market for illegal ivory and adding tougher penalties for those who support it. I am proud that New York is taking this stand, and I urge government and community leaders across the globe to do the same”.
Said New York State Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, “this legislation will protect elephants, which are being lost to the world at an outrageous rate of 96 elephants a day, all to satisfy the vanity ivory market and to finance terrorism. The enactment of this bill recognizes the significant impact our state can have on clamping down on illegal ivory sales in order to save elephants from the ruthless poaching operations run by terrorists and organized crime”.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, Natural Resources Defense Council and The Humane Society of the United States praised the New York State Legislature for passing landmark legislation that bans the sale and purchase of elephant ivory and rhino horn.
The passage of the bill arrives just weeks after Kenya’s largest bull elephant, named Satao, was found slaughtered in a swamp in Tsavo East National Park. According to a statement from the Tsavo Trust, “Satao was shot dead by poisoned arrow on 30th May 2014”. The Tsavo Trust is a Kenyan non-profit organization that supports wildlife. “We spotted his carcass on 2nd June, but to avoid any potential false alarms, we first took pains to verify the carcass really was his”.
Satao, Kenya’s largest elephant, was killed by poachers for his highly-valuable ivory tusks earlier this month.
While mammoth and fossilized ivory is supposed to be obtained from long-deceased animals and often is, it is often difficult to confirm where the material has actually come from. The ban is really to crack down on elephant poaching and quell the illegal ivory trade altogether. By prohibiting currently legal transactions of antiques and mammoth ivory, the bill will close a loophole commonly used by ivory traffickers, pretending their items are mammoth or old, and thus legal, when they are often from recently-killed elephants. The law goes into effect immediately upon enactment. License and permit holders may sell existing elephant ivory and rhino horn until current licenses or permits expire.
Questions have been raised by dealers and collectors who trade in ivory antiques owned long before the era of mass poaching. They say the restrictions, which are stiffer than similar federal rules announced in May, will hurt legitimate sellers but do little to protect endangered animals. The real threat to elephants and rhinos, they say, comes from the enormous illicit market in tusks and horns based in China and other Asian nations.
“It is masterful self-deception to think the elephant can be saved by banning ivory in New York,” said Clinton Howell, president of the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, which is based in Manhattan. “Those of us with licenses to sell ivory have no problem with severe penalties for people who buy newly poached ivory, but that is absolutely not the problem here”.
His was one of at least five arts and antiques trade groups that opposed the measure.
What effect will the so-called ‘blanket ban’ on ivory have on owners of the now illegal ivory items such as cameos, clarinets, chess sets, pianos, and ivory-detailed decorative objects? What kind of market will develop for those items? Where will that market be?
Monique Pean’s fossilized woolly mammoth ivory necklace for $37,100, which is available at Barney’s, cannot be sold in New York as soon as the new bill is enacted.
For new jewelry, a number of brands and designers will also feel the effects of the ban. Contemporary designers like Monique Péan and Bochic, whose designs often incorporate fossilized mammoth ivory, may find difficulty in selling pieces composed of the now-illegal material, even though they were made before the ban. Additionally, esteemed brands like Verdura, Seaman Schepps and Trianon, whose signature cuffs, link bracelets, earrings and other jewelry designs frequently use mammoth ivory, will be forced to discontinue a number of their iconic pieces. New materials will be found, there is no question about that.
A Verdura iconic Maltese Cuff “Five Stone” lavender amethyst hinged cuff bracelet like this, in carved mammoth ivory and 18k yellow gold, will be impossible to sell in New York once the new legislation goes into effect.
Seaman Schepps’s “Rigate” mammoth ivory and diamond cuff, signed and numbered, will no longer in available in New York.
Wildlife traffickers turn a $19 billion profit and use the legal commercial ivory to push illegal products under the guise of “antique,” “mammoth,” “bone” and even “jewelry,” resulting in the legal trade fueling the illegal one. Most feel it is only a matter of time until all forms of ivory, tusk and bone from any animal, fossilized or fresh, are completely banned.
While New York is the first state to pass such a strict ban on elephant and mammoth ivory as well as rhino horn, the new law does not include walrus or narwhal ivory. These animals have become increasingly poached for their ivory as more and more laws make it nearly impossible to trade in items made of elephant ivory. New Jersey passed an even more restrictive ban on ivory just a few days after New York. The NJ Ivory Ban Bill outlaws all ivory from any animal (elephant, hippo, mammoth, narwhal, walrus, whale, rhino etc.). It makes it illegal to import, sell, offer for sale, purchase, barter or possess with intent to sell (a vague phrase subject to abusive interpretation) any ivory or ivory product with no exceptions for antique or heretofore legal ivory imported decades ago prior to the existing U. S. ban on ivory imports. Only time will tell what effect these new laws will have on the global ivory trade as well as the poaching of endangered African elephants.
Bochic has a dedicated Mammoth Ivory Collection which it will no longer be allowed to sell in New York. Here are delicate carvings in fossilized mammoth ivory that are combined with diamonds.
New York is the number one importer of elephant ivory into the United States. The U.S. is the second largest ivory marketplace after China. This state legislation will enhance federal efforts to tighten the elephant ivory trade ban on a federal level. Large scale poaching of elephants and trafficking in ivory presents enormous economic and security challenges across Africa and beyond. The illegal ivory trade both flourishes from and contributes to a climate of instability and lawlessness in many African elephant range states, in which humanitarian crimes have risen dramatically. However, the sale of ivory is not illegal in other parts of the world, namely China which is a huge market. While the U.S. will put a dent in the ivory market, the market will follow the laws of supply and demand to other parts of the world. It will be interesting to follow.