Ivory Trade Regulations and the Antiques Trade in New York City

New York City is the largest of the thirteen “antique ports”, places where materials such as antique elephant ivory, mammoth ivory, and rhinoceros horn can legally enter the United States. Because of the volume and demand for these materials in illicit markets in China and other Asian nations, law enforcement officials continue to find huge troves of illegally poached elephant ivory destined for trade on the black market.

“Many species around the world are teetering on the brink of extinction due to poaching to supply the illegal wildlife trade, especially elephants,” said New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, who added that “New York has zero tolerance for those who would profit from the sale of endangered and threatened species.”

In an effort to curtail poaching, the United States passed tougher federal laws governing ivory trade in February 2014, and New York lawmakers followed by passing some of the most restrictive ivory trade regulations in the country.

Of the ivory items already inside the border of the United States, federal laws dictate that only documented ‘antique’ ivory can be sold. To qualify as ‘antique,’ an item must have documentation confirming that it is at least 100 years old, has not been modified or repaired with any endangered species after December 27, 1973, and that it was imported through an endangered species “antique port”. This greatly restricts ivory items that can be traded commercially in the United States because age and provenance documentation is uncommon, causing most ivory items over 100 years old to lack proper paperwork for sale under today’s laws.

New York State is even more restrictive, however. Objects composed of more than 20% ivory cannot be sold in New York, even if it qualifies as antique. Furthermore, to sell antique items composed of less than 20% ivory, vendors must maintain a rigorously updated inventory available for inspection on demand by law enforcement officials and possess the proper license. New York does allow the sale of musical instruments that are more than 20% ivory if there is a record of ownership before 1975. Because Lofty does not keep a physical inventory of property, our company does not qualify for an ivory trade license.

Hopefully these new regulations will help save the remaining African elephants from illegal poaching. For more information on the trade of commercial elephant ivory trade regulations, please visit the United States Fish & Wildlife Service Q&A Page.