An official warning on taking instruments into the USA

An official warning on taking instruments into the USA


norman lebrecht

March 14, 2014

The following letter has been circulated overnight by the League of American Orchestras about new regulations on musical instruments that we highlighted yesterday:

Dear Colleague,

I’m writing to make you aware of an urgent policy development. If your orchestra engages international artists, or your musicians travel internationally as individuals, this will matter to you. If your orchestra tours internationally, this development will most certainly concern you.

On February 25, 2014, new strict limits immediately took effect for traveling internationally with instruments that contain African elephant ivory. Following a new Obama Administration effort to protect African elephants from poaching by combatting illegal trade in ivory, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) ordered strict enforcement procedures related to the Endangered Species Act and the African Elephant Conservation Act.


alban gerhardt bow



According to the order, many instruments containing African elephant ivory will not be allowed into the U.S., even if a musician is simply returning to the U.S. with instruments in their personal possession, not intended for sale. Under the rules, a musical instrument that contains African elephant ivory may only be brought into the U.S. if it meets all of the following criteria: Was legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976; Has not subsequently been transferred from one person to another person for financial gain or profit since February 26, 1976; The person or group qualifies for a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) musical instrument certificate; and The musical instrument containing African elephant ivory is accompanied by a valid CITES musical instrument certificate or an equivalent CITES document.

A great many professional orchestra musicians, particularly string players, perform with instruments that contain small amounts of ivory, most frequently found in the tips of bows. Most of these musical instruments, while legally manufactured and acquired, would have been purchased after 1976, and will now be prohibited from entering into the U.S.

Still others that have not been sold since 1976 may be missing key documentation. While the timeline for strict enforcement of this policy at U.S. borders is uncertain, it could occur at any time. The League is in ongoing dialogue with federal officials to seek a solution that addresses wildlife conservation goals while also protecting international musical activity that requires musicians to travel across borders with the essential tools of their trade.

We need your help. Please complete this survey to provide us with information that will help us make the case. Become aware of the rules for travelling with instruments containing endangered species material. We have posted background on the new ivory ban as well as detailed guidance on the existing CITES rules for travel with items that contain other protected species, such as tortoise shell and rosewood. Contact the League’s Washington, D.C. office with questions. We are working to get all of the answers we can. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and your ongoing partnership as we work on your behalf.


Jesse Rosen President and CEO, League of American Orchestras



  • ed says:

    All those great open trench Dodd bows with ivory frogs will now go to China, Japan, Korea, Germany and….Russia.

  • Bill H. says:

    Have read elsewhere that this new rule also gives border officials the authorization to potentially destroy the bows and instruments if they don’t have the required documentation, and to prosecute the musicians that try to bring them (back into) the US. Hopefully the League can get clarification on this.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    Not bought after 1976? Even those of us who are older working musicians were too young then to be buying fine instruments and bows. Many of my younger colleagues weren’t even born yet.

  • Stereo says:

    Just don’t go to US any longer,their loss not ours. Thank God I’m retired and don’t have to go there. They make you feel unwelcome in so many ways .

    • Steven says:

      Apologies. I know I do not speak for all Americans, I am truly sorry for the way this seems to be going down. Yes, it is our loss.

    • Sarah H says:

      Yes I too hope you do not feel harsh to all of America. We, as a people are reeling from this crazy ruling too. Our country (America) is making us uncomfortable too.

      • Robert D says:

        A nation gets what it voted for. Far too many Americans were fooled by the pre-election seduction and lies, awakening on the day after the election ruled by a hateful, vindictive administration. The administration that raided a guitar making company, Gibson, closing it down and confiscating all its rare woods purchased legally (like our bows) just because it’s owner donated to the opposition political party.

        Please remember this when you consider for whom to vote next time! And those who paint Americans with a broad brush, remember this government with which we are saddled is NOT reflective of the people held captive by it.

        • Anonymus says:

          For my part I reduce to travel to the US to absolute minimum possible since immigration got more humiliating than visiting North Korea after 9/11 the US suffered in hysteria a coup by the Neocons and Patriot Act and Homeland security took over the country. Now who you US citizens vote for, does it really matter? You have in fact the one-part-system of the Soviets, only that its in disguise and branded as two political entities. Smart deception by some who have read and understood Hegel…

        • Otis Driftwood says:

          So, Robert, at election time for whom do we vote?

          (A) A member of the same party as the evil, vindictive monster you described above,

          (B) A Theocrat who wants to incorporate his/her religion into our body of legislation, step into the physician’s office telling him or her what must be said to the patient and mandating unnecessary procedures only for one sex, making preventive medicine services unavailable for many less fortunate women, to teach religious dogma in the science classroom, and to put pieces of their religious writings up in public places like courtrooms, capitol buildings and courthouses?

          (C) An isolationist nut who wants government to abdicate essentially all of it s modern and quite necessary functions (legislating product safety, struggling to protect the environment, supporting higher education, supporting in a very minor way the arts, supporting scientific research, etc).

          Some choice we have!

          • Jane Scroggins says:

            What about just endorsing freedom of the individual and supporting commonsense rules and regulations!

            You progressive nuts are so busy worrying about free sex, saving some mythical global warming and abortion that it has now come full circle and it hitting you right between the eyes!!! YES we need to protect elephants from being killed for their ivory. Destroying/banning vintage instruments (or jewelry) is just plain stupid!!

            Sad part is it all controlled by money and most musicians are not wealthy (in money) Guess the Japanese will get some fine instruments, the one’s the custom inspectors don’t smash!

          • Otis Driftwood says:

            Jane irrationally said, “You progressive nuts are so busy worrying about free sex, saving some mythical global warming and abortion that it has now come full circle and it hitting you right between the eyes!!! ”

            So because I support a return to Constitutional law, refuse to endorse right wing theocratic policies, don’t want my government restricting access to health care for anyone, but especially for less fortunate women, I am a “Progressive Nut?” Don’t think so. Those are all moderate (truly conservative) positions.

            I advocate ready access to family planning – to avoid as many unplanned and unwanted pregnancies as possible – and cancer screening, both of which have been severely restricted by sinful and immoral laws passed by theocrats in several states. I want the government out of the examining room, and want all religions and all people treated equally. Why do these moderate and Constitutional positions make me “progressive nut?” What positions could be more reasonable?

            Sounds like you are the nut here, on the extreme right wing.

            For your information, the last decade contained nine of the ten hottest years on record. The Northwest Passage is open. The Greenland ice cap is thinning rapidly. Glaciers everywhere are receding rapidly. Are you one of the nuts who irrationally refuses to accept the conclusions of literally hundreds of earth scientists?

            The question is, “What should we do about the extreme increase in greenhouse gases (that have almost doubled in my lifetime)?” We must develop free energy sources, generated locally within each household or neighborhood (LENR or equivalent). We must stop burning fossil fuels over the next 20 years, as locally generated free energy replaces the electric transmission grids and internal combustion engines.

            A carbon tax? No way. Not in the constitution, and it would do more harm than good anyway. Unfortunately our global enemies who control our government, our flow of energy, and our monetary system are not going to allow this to happen, as it would loosen their grip on us. The results will not be pretty.

          • Robert D says:

            Otis, If a law was passed last week, Otis, that said, “all descendants of slave owners owes a 50,000 payment to the NAACP under penalty of jail, and YOU were the descendant of a slave owner, would you pay it?

            I’m sure you would argue you are innocent by virtue of being born after the Emancipation Proclamation.

            The issue here is the same but you regulation sycophants can’t see the analogy in your hell-bent, irrational drive to lick the bootstraps of a tyrannical administration and punish those innocent of any crime except having been unfortunate to own something just declared illegal.

          • Otis Driftwood says:

            Robert, please get some psychotherapy, or at least read my response with a bit more attention, before launching into a rant.

            Do you see anywhere in my response anything that indicates that I support the current administration, or the last one? I am in fact railing against them.

            Do you see anywhere in my response that I support the absurd, unlawful and unconstitutional legislation under discussion that has help make the USA an isolationist laughing-stock as far as the arts go? No indeed. I abhor it and the unreasonable and uncaring approach the Immigration fuch-heads take when trying to be sure they stick to the letter of the law and ignore its intent.

  • Rob Vela says:

    This is a change that will obviously hit close to home for instrumentalists, but we cannot continue to blame China for the decimation of our endangered species on one hand while carving out trade exceptions for ourselves on the other.

    It we can find a way to protect extant instruments without supporting the ivory trade in any way, that would be fantastic, but traffickers are crafty opportunists, which means that it may not be possible, in which case I hope that the League of American Orchestras accepts without question its role in this important worldwide conservation effort.

    I’m not suggesting that we destroy any instruments, but that would hardly be necessary anyway. Replacing parts, on the other hand, is quite feasible, and there are many other materials that share the acoustic and structural qualities of ivory. As musicians we are quintessential humanists, and this is the type of pressing matter in which we can and ought to show leadership.

  • Marguerite Foxon says:

    Bureaucracy out of control. Too bad they don’t clamp down on Wall St rorts with the same grim determination.

  • adrian says:

    Exists something more stupid than this law in the world ? No.

  • Dee Fleming says:

    This is absurd. To make me a criminal because I cannot prove that the tip on my bow is made form Mastodon ivory? To make me a criminal because CITES just decided that this ban goes back to 1976? I never want to see an elephant killed for its ivory, but THIS IS CRAZY. WE ARE NOT CRIMINALS, and we are not the problem here. Confiscating and destroying my fine old bow will not produce any more elephants, and it certainly won’t stop the poachers.

  • Uli Speth says:

    I own bows that had an ivory tip put on ca. 90 years ago. If these tips ever broke I would make sure that replacements were from materials other than ivory. I’m all for protecting elephants but breaking an old violin bow won’t protect one single elephant. Please improve this law to enable musicians to continue to travel abroad and back with their instruments!

  • Genny says:

    This is outrageous, How are The very old bows that usally have parts on ivory!? Even the modern bows! Say that to the strads that have some ornaments as well, even rosewood??? My chin rest is made in rosewood so what to do now? Is not my fault! Is how the luthier made it! … I’m pissed…… WHAT ABOUT PIANO KEYS!!!!

    • Eric Scheirer Stott says:

      With piano keys the situation is bad – if it can not be proven that your instrument is old enough, customs officials will strip the ivory from the keys. Foreign dealers in used pianos often inform US customers that if they buy such an instrument the key tops must be replaced before shipping, or the piano must be shipped without them.

  • Ray Gurney says:

    There are many different ivories. How would they be able to determine, on the spot, whether it was African ? Even museums need forensic testing to be sure…..

  • Cm says:

    To my musician friends, please stop complaining about this like winey little babies. Google elephant poaching and look at pictures of elephants w their faces hacked off. An elephant was slaughtered in a brutal way for your precious little violin bow. Banning it completely is the only way to help stop this. Think about if you were killed by getting your face hacked off just so someone could have a bow made of your tooth. Not so precious.

    • John higgon says:

      Cm, you are wrong about this. Modern instruments are not made with ivory. If ivory is used on a modern instrument, it has been recycled from old knife handles, etc. the problem is that a 100 or more year old instrument may well have some ivory in it. Destroying this instrument does nothing to address elephant poaching. Most poached ivory ends up in China, where it is worked into ornaments. This is where governments need to concentrate their efforts.

    • Paul says:

      Dear CM, I have as much concern as you about the horror being visited on elephants and the illegal ivory trade. My bow made in the 1860 has a tiny sliver of ivory which destroying will not help return any elephants. My guitar has a nut made of 30,00 year old mammoth which I understand is “OFF” the endangered species list, but I don’t have paperwork to prove where it came from .

      My instruments are my tools and they are precious and I am there caretaker for this life time. Many of my instruments have seen many owners before me and I hope will have many after and bring joy to owners and listeners alike. The wood of my bow is also precious and is in fact from an endangered species, but this was not the case when it was harvested and no amount of destroyed bows which are historic works of art will bring those trees back.

      No elephants are killed to make bows. The amount used in a bow could be made from the scrape of a carving that it is used for. One tusk would probably be enough for every bow in existence. The ivory itself adds nothing to the sound and a number of different materials can be used. It just happens to be what is on old bows.

    • anna says:

      As both an animal lover and a musician I find you comment single sided, yes animal poaching is terrible and horrific and needs to stop. However if officials were to destroy one of the few Stradivarius instruments left because someone can not prove the origins of its ivory (which if you weren’t aware these instruments were made far be for 1970) it would be a great loss. As they are more endangered then any animal and no more can be acquired. So please take your pompous comment else where. I will play my world tiniest violin over this issue until I try to bring it into the US and its destroyed.

  • Robert D says:

    Guess all those old pianos in the US with ivory keys are now subject to destruction.

  • Martin T says:

    Please can we have some common sense on this? A bow containing ivory acquired before or after 1976 doesn’t make the owner a terrible person who is about to extract more ivory. Too many rule makers have good intentions but lack common sense by blanket decisions. It is not as though ivory is like a drug.

  • La says:

    How will they know if there is ivory used, and how will they know if it is, in fact, African elephant ivory? Is this something that will be enforceable?

  • joseph gold says:

    Every action has consequences. The “do-gooders” in government did not think of the major consequences of the ivory ban. Their regulation will not prevent illegal ivory poaching. But it will destroy Western Music.

    How can USA Customs act unilaterally and destroy personal property? This smacks of Gestapo tactics.

    What qualifications do the customs agents have to recognize the differences in legal ivory and illegal ivory?

    Joseph Gold

  • JohnN says:

    I have a better idea for us non-Americans:let’s just forget America.World is big enough without them,enough of their arrogant immigration too.Let’s stick to civilised world.Thank You

    • Janey says:

      Yes! The kind of world that allows Russia to invade its neighbor with no consequences for the sake of money. Very civilized. Importantly, there has been so much advancement toward absolute civility in Europe since 1938. It is astounding to behold.

      • JohnN says:

        And the price for that kind of ‘protection’ is that any ignorant and bullying customs or immigration officer can do what every they like with you and your musical instrument..there are some horrible people working on those jobs.And please don’t educate us about doing things for sake of money,so we don’t have to educate you about reasons why America actually wants to get involved with everything outside it’s borders…it may come down to financial issues anyway.

  • Kay says:

    What if your bow contains mammoth ivory? Mammoth has obviously been extinct, but will they be able to tell the difference or will they just assume all Ivory is African elephant?

  • Bram Wijnands says:

    I fail to understand how this rule protects elephants now since the ivory materials on bows was already installed and in many cases a long time ago. Are they going to take of the ivory and put it back on the tusk of an elephant???

  • jaura says:

    Cm, you don’t know anything about this subject at all! The point is, if a Tourte cello bow worth $200,000.00 is made with an ivory tip, what should be done about it? If you RIP off the tip and replace it with BONE, it will severely impact the worth of this antique. Why would anyone do this and how would it help any elephants? It was already done 200 years ago!!! Think about all the fine French and English furniture inlaid with semi-precious woods and other endangered species! Should we DESTROY all works of art? That would be insane!

  • Jim says:

    Calm down. You can have the ivory on the tip of your bow replaced by plastic, which will have no effect on function. Save the ivory: you cannot sell the ivory, but the bow will not lose significantly in value, if it is a fine bow. You can do the same with piano keys or other parts, including the frog of a bow (although the bow will lose value here!).

    Do NOT expect customs officials to be able to differentiate between old and new ivory, Asian or African, mammoth or walrus ivory or even bone: they can’t. If you don’t have proper documentation, don’t travel with that bow or instrument and don’t try to take it through US Customs. There, I said it.

    And that said, you would be amazed at how many of those ivory tips on Tourtes and other fine bows are not original! The ivory is there to protect the tip of the bow: if sustaining a blow, the ivory should break, but not the tip. Hence, many if not most are not original, and other materials work as well.

    • Robert D says:

      You miss the point. it is a display of arrogant power for a government to declare illegal an act (the purchase of an item or service) ex post facto, thus criminalizing innocent persons.

      Musicians should not be required to undergo additional expense and inconvenience to protect an act performed legally because the law changed arbitrarily after the act was committed.

      How about being responsible for reparations to Afro-Americans because your great grandparents held a slave? It might happen!

    • Eric Scheirer Stott says:

      One problem is, if you’ve grown used to a piano with ivory keys there is a VERY significant touch difference between ivory and even the best plastic substitutes. There is a different feel and ivory wears differently- the fingertips slide on it in a different way. This isn’t an insurmountable thing but it exists.

  • Claire Curtis says:

    The key here is documentation. No, a customs agent may not be able to tell mastodon ivory from elephant ivory.from walrus ivory or even bone. But the agent has the ability to seize any of these on mere suspicion. So an owner will need some sort of certification that the bow tip is mere bone, or mastodon, or other permitted substance.

    The way the law is written, it is not just a border issue. It applies to sales within the country as well. Bottom line – find your sales receipt, if at all possible. Document what you have. And if you have a tip replaced, make sure the repair invoice specifies that they used legal bone.

    • Robert D says:

      Even IF one has documentation on the purchase of a bow, it isn’t likely to specify what sort of ivory. In fact just the mention of “ivory” on any documentation will incriminate your bow!

      This regulation ex post facto is the kind of thing that must be fought. Anything made before a reg is promulgated MUST be grandfathered. How can you be guilty of committing an illegal act if the act was legal when ‘committed?’

      This is what you get when you elect to high office a raving amateur who’s hostile to art and business. Remember he sent storm troopers to the guitar factory to close them down for using the same woods ‘illegally’ that they were using for 100 years legally to make instruments. The SAME hostile attitude! It soon came out that Gibson had contributed to Republicans. As the car dealerships that had contributed to the regime’s opponents were the only ones closed down in the auto manufacturer bankruptcy sweep. Then there’s the IRS going after political enemies.

      Do you see a pattern?

      • Brandon S. says:

        Robert –

        From 1973 on, any ivory should have had proper documentation declaring the type of ivory or, at the very least, it’s date of manufacture. If you purchased any ivory object after 1973 without proper documentation you quite possibly committed an illegal act. Ignorance here is no reason to blame the current administration.

        • Robert D says:

          Brandon, I don’t know whether you were around in 1973. I was and in fact purchased a fine American-made bow whose tip is clad in ivory in just that year. Be assured No one was talking about ivory at that time. No certificates, no NOTHING!

          Ex post facto laws are the issue here — not the saving of elephants. As much as I oppose the slaughter of elephants, your bone (no pun intended) needs to be picked with China and other countries not interested an anything except the profit motive. Look at their deathly pollution and political imprisonment of anyone questioning the political orthodoxy.

  • Anna Seda says:

    A week before moving from the USA to Peru my bowmaker/ rehairer made a comment about the risks of bringing an ivory tipped bow across the border. I swiftly called the shop that sold me the bow to ask for documentation but they could not because my bow was made after 1976. They assured me that there would be no issue- that in one case out of the thousands of bows they’ve sold was a bow taken at customs because the violist declared- on paper- the ivory.

    Despite knowing that taking my prized bow to Latin America and having it destroyed along the way was a scary image, so I bought a carbon fiber replacement. I don’t think you have to live in fear- don’t declare it- if you need to do it properly ask for the paperwork from your seller.

  • Alicia Randisi-Hooker says:

    It is fine to vent frustration here but the more important work is to contact the American League of Symphony Orchestras, the American Federation of Musicians, and your legislators. Now go.

  • Anonymous says:

    I guess everyone is a conservationist until THEIR property is in danger. I have no idea if my bow has elephant ivory on it, but it definitely was made before 1976. If I travel with my violin, I’ll go get the musical passport. Or I’ll replace the ivory with plastic.

    Bowmakers, does replacing the ivory with plastic damage the value of highly valuable bows? If yes, then this law will create some problems for traveling musicians with great bows, but maybe taking a $50,000 bow on a bone-dry metal tube flying 35,000 feet in the air isn’t such a good idea either…

    Good laws sometimes have unintended consequences. We should be doing everything we can to protect elephants, and if this law will prevent one elephant getting killed, I think I can spend the $200 to replace the ivory tip of my bow with plastic, OR the $75 to get the musical passport. It’s really not a big deal, and the selfishness of certain posters is pretty surreal.

  • Theo grave says:

    Is your bow or time worth more than an elephant?

    Is it better to have an amazing species on this planet or cling to an object?

    I am a musician too and my instrument is worth about 20,000, but it contains no endangered species.

  • Brandon S. says:

    What I find interesting here are the number of comments regarding policy. CITES has been in place since 1973 and had made the ownership of certain kinds of ivory (notably Asian Elephant, Bowhead Whale and Sperm Whale) for decades in the United States. African elephant has had exemptions but proper documentation showing that it was estate ivory versus new ivory was required. Any purchaser of any ivory component should have asked for proper documentation (which the seller should have been able to provide) documenting the type of ivory (and yes, it can be determined after the fact).

    Sidenote: Don’t simply blame the United States for the regulation of Ivory. CITES is a group that created by a group of nations within and enforced by the United Nations. More so, 180 countries participate in the CITES regulations regarding the importation of ivory along international borders.

  • Alex Fang says:

    My bassoon made in 1929, and there are a Ivory ring on the upper part, it’s can not be replaced, what I can do about it? I can not bring it with me to china or bring back.

    • Harry Searing says:

      You can have the ivory ring replaced with a plastic ring by a good competent bassoon repair person. I just saw one tonight on one of my friend’s (Frank Morelli) bassoons. He travels weekly in and out of the country and didn’t want to take any chance. He reports no change in sound or playing.

  • Jim says:

    Finally some reason starting to happen here. As I know from a friend involved in the negotiations of these regulations, musicians and antiques collectors were not very involved. The Obama administration was interested in saving elephants and reducing ivory trade. There are only several hundred Forestry and Wildlife inspectors, but many thousands customs officials, hence this shotgun approach.

    There is no question: this will be enforced. There will be reasonable customs officials and others less so. They really have no way nor no knowledge to discriminate between old and new ivory, African or Asian, or other types of ivory or even bone. My only interest here was and is to inform colleagues and help them avoid what could be very unpleasant experiences. If you are interested in importing/exporting ivory or buying or selling objects containing ivory, you should contact CITES or get your information elsewhere.

    If you have ivory on the tip of your bow, you can have this replaced with plastic for a minimum expense and will have no problem.

    If your bow has an ivory frog, I would advise not traveling internationally with it.

    Pegs with ivory decoration and inserts can easily be replaced.

    Whether you or I agree with the policy or not is irrelevant. Knowing what the policy is can prevent us from being victims of it, by buying, selling, importing or exporting ivory of any type. If you object to the policy, you are free to write your congressperson, senator and/or the White House, and I would encourage you to do so.

  • EricB says:

    Well, a nice boycott of american musical institutions will quickly bring back the Obama administration to its senses….

    • Robert D says:

      No…it will bring a smile to obama and Mouchelle’s face, having destroyed yet another American institution!

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Artists amazed to find the law applies to them too. Outrage ensues.

    Well, maybe we could put a note in the program: “Tonight’s concert is being brought to you by slaughtered African elephants. “

    • Robert D says:

      “Tonight’s slavery reparation bill goes to Greg Hlatky. Oh Greg’s ancestors were in Czechoslovakia in 1850? Doesn’t matter. He is responsible because he lives in the USA. Greg has collective guilt because his ancestors decided to emigrate to the US and now are under US laws. Don’t like it? TS!”

      I hope you wake up and find a bill in your mail from your local IRS office that you owe reparations for your ancestors slaves. That is the equivalent of my being criminalized for the innocent LEGAL act of buying a bow with an ivory tip in 1973…41 years ago!

      Thank your Dear Leader obama for this. (I’m sure you are saying your Hosannas!)

  • Vtechnician says:

    Could someone create a petition there for us to sign? I’m just not good at doing things like that. Thanks!

  • It is at times like this I’m glad I’m a singer, and have yet to attempt to import my Oboe by plane. (No doubt someone will complain that it is made from some exotic tropical hardwood – excuse me it’s an oboe, sort of goes with the territory)

    AS for antique pianos and bows, the elephant has been dead for years. Ethics were different then. It is not as if these pieces are killing anymore elephants. My sympathy is with the musician. The act of purchasing a bow with an ivory tip where the ivory is legal and was at the time should not be amended retrospectively. That is vandalism.

    Whether it was wrong to make the bow with ivory in the first place is debatable. However, one does not make any wrong better by committing a further wrong.

  • Myscha Butt says:

    Given the appalling treatment of stringed instruments by United, and Delta Airlines I wonder that anyone still tries to travel with an instrument!

    (United Breaks Guitars was a song by Dave Carroll that became a viral video)

    Christopher Wilke’s Lute smashed by Delta Airlines

    Wu Man’s Pipa smashed by US Airways

    Dave Schneider’s 1965 Gibson guitar destroyed by Delta Airlines

  • I have travelled with my hallmarked silver and ivory bagpipes for 5 years.

    When I purchased them in 2009 I was aware of the ivory and I had photos checked to ensure the pipes were of the date specified by the seller. My pipes were made between 1920 and 1930.

    I have travelled to Scotland twice, New Zealand over a dozen times and everywhere in between. I have not had any trouble with the ivory through customs. I do feel, however, that old instruments should not be banned from entering any country if they have a CITES Certificate. After all, we are

    Musicians and we love to play our music. We should not have to be worried about our instruments being confiscated because of what they are made from.

    If the instruments were made pre 1976, then we are entitled to travel them it!

  • Susan Westergard says:

    I believe the rules haven’t changed that much, but are being enforced. I have a friend who has pre-convention (1976) pipes and has CITES documentation. It would seem that documentation is the key, so you’d have to prove your instrument is pre-convention (not new). Alas, the documentation is challenges are still there. Here is the actual text from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife International Affairs website.

    Musicians and musical instrument manufacturers

    How will the commercial and noncommercial use of musical instruments containing elephant ivory be affected?

    Commercial import of musical instruments containing African elephant ivory will be prohibited.

    Commercial export and sale in interstate commerce will be prohibited without an ESA permit.

    Orchestras, professional musicians and similar entities will be allowed to import certain musical instruments containing African elephant ivory if the instruments qualify as pre-Convention and are not destined to be sold. Worked African elephant ivory imported as part of a musical instrument will continue to be allowed provided the worked ivory was legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976; the worked elephant ivory has not subsequently been transferred from one person to another person in pursuit of financial gain or profit; and the item is accompanied by a valid CITES musical instrument passport or CITES traveling exhibition certificate.

    The import, export and sale in interstate commerce of non-antique specimens of other ESA-listed species continue to be prohibited without an ESA permit. Antique musical instruments made of endangered species that are already here in the United States may continue to be sold in interstate commerce without an ESA permit provided the seller can prove the specimen meets the definition of an antique under the ESA.

    With finalization of the ”use-after-import” provisions in our CITES regulations, species listed in CITES Appendix I or in Appendix II with an annotation for noncommercial purposes (such as African and Asian elephant or sea turtle) may only be used for noncommercial purposes unless it can be proved that the specimen was imported prior to the restrictive listing.

    Can ivory be imported to manufacture new musical instruments?

    Our CITES regulations (50 CFR 23.55) place limits on how CITES Appendix-I and certain Appendix-II specimens may be used after import into the United States. The purpose is to prevent commercial use of specimens after import into the United States when only noncommercial trade is allowed under CITES. We are in the process of finalizing a proposed rule updating our CITES regulations, including amendments to the “use-after-import” provisions. Use after import of Appendix-I specimens is limited to noncommercial purposes except when a person can demonstrate that the specimens were imported before the species was listed in Appendix I, or they were imported under a pre-Convention certificate or other CITES exemption document. For further information, see our answers on antiques, personally owned items and musical instruments.

  • Gary King says:


    Give it back to the elephants ??

  • How can I find out what woods are covered by this travesty of a ex-post-facto (therefore unconstitutional) law?

    I have antique wooden flutes from 1820-1890 made of cocus wood. I purchased the instruments well after 1976. I know the dates of manufacture of many of these (all before 1900). If I take them abroad for study by a friend who is assembling data on these older instruments, will I be able to get them back in the country?

  • Dale R. says:

    So how DOES one obtain a CITES certificate?

  • sue Harris-Cohen says:

    Gesture politics at its worse. It won’t save a single elephant. In fact, it is the world wide ban on ivory that is fuelling poaching and limiting African countries abilities to tackle poachers – allowing some legal trading of ivory from culled animals (elephants are routinely culled to keep numbers manageable) would generate funds for greater wildlife protection, AND bring down the price of illegal ivory that is fuelling poaching. It is a vicious circle kept going by misplaced liberal sentiment in the west – nowhere worse than the US of A.

    Mind you, this is only one of a many reasons not to visit the States.

    • Manar says:

      What I’d love is for a broad agreement:

      * there is lots of ivory on instruments that does no direct harm to animals

      * if there is an impact on artists, let it only be because avoiding that impact renders the anti-poaching measures ineffective

      * I hope we never have to choose, but personally I’d rather have elephants and rhino (etc.) in the wild than ivory on so many instruments. Let’s work to ensure we have both.

      I assumed well regulated legal trade would be part of the solution to poaching. Then I looked at what happened when these policies were enacted; either by sale of reserves or by allowing regulated trade of new ivory. It saddens me that it’s worse than ineffective, poaching *increases* with legal trading. The market grew and it seems people’s actions to avoid purchasing poached ivory reduced: mixed messages (‘is it bad or good?).

      My question is: can the regulations be tuned to make the impact on artists less without risking the anti-poaching impact? What evidence is there that this will or won’t pan out as suggested?

      If the opinion that legal trade should be part of the solution is inviolate (i.e. there is a lack of openness to evidence that shows the opinion is false) then it’s pure dogma.

  • Ardal Powell says:

    As a musical instrument maker for 25 years I did my best to bring sane awareness to the impact the musical instrument trade had on elephant poaching. During that time I only once saw a CITES certificate: a palpable forgery from an African merchant. I dare say American musicians can do better in the face of this mindless bureaucratic maneuver.

  • David Taylor says:

    The solution is easy. Call the NRA. They have lots of guns with ivory in them.

    I’ll bet they won’t be touched.

  • Manar says:

    The impact on artists is thoroughly undeserved collateral damage. Having spent an evening discussing the situation on the ground with experts dealing with the sharp end of this horrid situation, I’m clear the next generation won’t see many or any Rhino and Elephants in the wild unless something much more effective than recent history is done about it.

    So the question isn’t “is this fair in isolation” (it clearly isn’t) but ‘is this unfair consequence unavoidable if we’re serious about turning the tide on poaching” (assuming one cares about halting poaching ore than fair ivory use). Alas, the evidence suggests a total clamp down is needed. That would likely change if China and the far east were on board but with only the US serious about it the options for effective action are more limited. Previous attempts to nurture a regulated “legal” trade in ivory has been heavily correlated with increased poaching. People seem to get confused unless there’s a brutally excessively (at times unfairly) clear “it’s not OK” message.

    Shame. It sucks that the Rhino/Elephant situation is such that this kind of move may make sense.

  • Dan says:

    What part of “Congress shall make no ex post facto law” do they not understand?
    If they say it’s not ex post facto, where did they get their stupidity?

    What part of “Innocent until proven guilty” do they not understand?

    A college student buys a Martin D-35 in 1975. It’s made in 1966.
    He takes a guitar building class and drives to Oakland in 1980 to buy wood to build his first guitar. Indian Rosewood for back, sides and neck and Sitka spruce for the top and braces.

    Now it’s 2018. He still plays the Martin and has a a partially built guitar in a box that he would like to finish some day when he gets the time.

    Should he tremble in his boots someone from the government will come around and declare that these items are all illegal now and that he is breaking the law merely by having them when he bought them several years before CITES was implemented into law?

    What part of ex post facto does our government not understand? Have they reworked it, too? Have they redefined it? Are you fine as long as you can provide receipts that prove the guitar and materials were purchased so long ago? Am you under the burden to prove innocence now? Do we now live in a country where the accused must prove innocence, where people are presumed guilty until proven innocent?

    Or is it that the burden of proof has been so cheapened that one person can lie about another or provide proof that is not really proof at all, but it is considered proof sufficient to establish guilt until the accused proves the proof faulty and proves his innocence?

    Is America a country or nation or government of principle? Or is it a nation of wobbly knees, lies, broken promises, false accusations, and abuses by a bunch of arrogant lying, compromising jackasses that we call “your honor” or “the honorable” in a display of ultimate cowardice, insincerity, and hypocrisy?

    Yes, protect ivory and rosewood and everything else that is really endangered. But don’t violate principles of integrity and honor and common decency in the process. And while you’re at it consider protecting the baby in the womb, too.

    • Lawrence Hodge says:

      As I commented: “it´s bullshit to punish a musician for owning an instrument, not to mention, ludicrous to seize and destroy an instrument because it is comprised of “illegal wood”! I will never carry my hand made fretless bass into the USA again or ANYWHERE for that matter ,after hearing numerous claims of barbaric antics involving neanderthal border goons harassing musicians simply for travelling with their work tools! My bass has an ebony fingerboard, (as do most high-end Violins, Cellos, many woodwinds, etc. )I didn t “steal” the wood to have it secretly installed on my axe, I legally purchased the bass! Likewise, would a border gaurd ripping the fingerboard off and then giving what´s left of my bass back to me, yield anything positive? Corporations are raping the rainforests and polluting the Seas with Oil, DAILY for what they need and I doubt if these harsh rules apply to them!