New York Passes Law Banning Sale of Elephant & Mammoth Ivory

Mammoth cover

Last week, lawmakers in Albany passed new legislation that places a permanent ban on the sale of elephant ivory, mammoth ivory and rhinoceros horn. For antique dealers and collectors, the new law enforces strict criteria by which ivory objects can be sold:  they must be at least 100 years old and consist of less than 20 percent ivory with documented proof of provenance. The bill would also make it a felony to deal in banned ivory or horn that is valued at $25,000 or more. New York is a central hub of the nationwide trade, whose estimated annual value is $500 million, and the legislation basically eliminates the state’s involvement.

Said Governor Andrew Cuomo: “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.”


Satao, Kenya’s largest elephant, was killed by poachers for his highly-valuable ivory tusks earlier this month. Photo: RICHARD MOLLER/TSAVO TRUST

The passage of the bill arrives a week after Kenya’s largest bull elephant, named Satao, was found slaughtered in a swamp in Tsavo East National Park.

While mammoth and fossilized ivory is obtained from long-deceased animals, the overarching ban aims to crack down on elephant poaching and quell the illegal ivory trade altogether. Some might wonder why ban a substance gathered from an extinct animal, however mammoth ivory is often difficult to discern from elephant ivory, so banning both eliminates any room for doubt. Moreover, by prohibiting currently-legal transactions of antiques and mammoth ivory, the bill closes two of the loopholes most 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 shall take effect immediately upon enactment; however, license and permit holders may sell existing elephant ivory and rhino horn until current licenses or permits expire. Once those permits expire, dealers and jewelers whose businesses rely heavily on the trade and use of the banned substances will take on the brunt of the bill, possibly going the way of the dinosaurs.


Confiscated ivory from New York City. Copyright Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Many argue that the so-called ‘blanket ban’ on ivory will have little effect on saving the endangered elephants in Africa by persecuting owners, buyers and sellers of legal ivory goods. Once the law is enacted, ivory-laden items such as cameos, clarinets, chess sets, pianos, and ivory-detailed decorative objects will virtually be worthless, leaving owners straddled with objects once valued at thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars and not a single soul to sell to.

For new jewelry, a number of brands and designers will also feel the effects of the ban. Contemporary designers like Monique Péan, Bibi van der Velden 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. There’s no question that designers of this caliber will find new exotic materials that push the boundaries of jewelry design in a similar fashion as fossilized ivory.


Verdura’s iconic Maltese Cuff often is made of mammoth ivory, like this one, which will be impossible to sell in New York once the new legislation goes into effect.

As the U.S., the second largest ivory marketplace after China, continues its efforts to eradicate the illegal elephant ivory trade by placing an all-encompassing ban on ivory and rhino horn, the NY law interestingly does not include walrus or narwhal ivory. These animals, along with the rhino, have become increasingly poached for their ivory or horns as more and more laws make it nearly impossible to trade in items made of elephant ivory.

New York is the first state to pass such a strict ban on elephant and mammoth ivory as well as rhino horn, and New Jersey has also passed an even more restrictive ban on ivory just a few days later. The NJ Ivory Ban Bill outlaws all ivory from any animal (elephant, hippo, mammoth, narwhal, walrus, whale, 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.

Bibi van der Velden earrings

These mammoth ivory earrings designed by Bibi van der Velden cannot be sold in New York as soon as the new bill is enacted.

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. It’s only a matter of time until all forms of ivory, tusk and bone from any animal, fossilized or fresh, is completely banned.

Further reading on the new NY law can be found here and here.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Mary Max
    June 30, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Hooray for NYS stepping up to the plate to help protect our magnificent fellow creatures.

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