Protect the Use and Ensure Preservation of Musical Instruments

A great many musicians, particularly string players, perform with instruments legally crafted decades, and even centuries, ago that contain small amounts of African elephant ivory. This is most frequently found on the tips of bows and on acoustic guitars, as well as an array of older string, wind, and percussion instruments. There is no longer a demand for using elephant ivory to create new instruments. As part of a broader effort to protect African elephants by combating illegal trade in ivory, the Administration has put in place new strict limits on international travel with instruments that contain African elephant ivory. A recent ban that prevented travel with instruments purchased after 1976 was revised on May 15, 2014 to limit travel to instruments purchased before February 25, 2014. Furthermore, the Administration is considering new rules that would prevent future domestic sale and re-sale of legally crafted instruments that contain even small amounts of African elephant ivory. Your members of Congress can help by weighing in with the Administration.
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Talking Points

  • The May 15, 2014 revision to the ivory order, which broadened the array of instruments permissible for travel to items purchased prior to February 25, 2014, is a step in the right direction, but it does not do enough to facilitate the use of instruments that contain small amounts of endangered species material. We are asking the Administration to:
    • Adopt reasonable and reliable policies for international travel with legally crafted, legally purchased musical instruments that contain endangered species material.
    • Maintain opportunities for the legal sale and re-sale of existing, legally crafted musical instruments that contain small amounts of African elephant ivory.
    • Support African elephant conservation by focusing U.S. enforcement resources on efforts that genuinely combat illegal trade and trafficking in African elephant ivory, rather than banning legal travel and trade with musical instruments.
  • The trade and use of musical instruments is not a source of illegal trafficking in elephant ivory. These instruments were not purchased for their ivory content, but rather for their impeccable overall quality and tonal attributes that enable their owners to perform to their very best abilities. Conservation goals will be better supported by focusing U.S. enforcement resources on the root of the elephant ivory trafficking problem, not on legal international cultural activity undertaken by musicians.
  • These instruments are essential tools of the trade. Because instruments are hand-crafted and uniquely matched to the performance needs of musicians, they are very often quite expensive and represent substantial personal investments for musicians. Most musicians do not have suitable substitute instruments for use in place of instruments that contain ivory.
  • A system simply has not been built for compliance with current and emerging rules related to travel with instruments that contain endangered species material. The permit process, customs enforcement procedures, and rules for compliance internationally are opaque and incomplete, creating a high risk of erroneous seizure and forfeiture of musical instruments.


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Protect the Use and Ensure Preservation of Musical Instruments

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Please direct any related questions to Heather Noonan, vice president for advocacy, or Najean Lee, director of government affairs & education advocacy.

The League is a member of the Performing Arts Alliance, a coalition of national performing arts service organizations dedicated to advocating for national policies that recognize, enhance, and foster the contributions the performing arts make to America.