Ivory as an import from China item into the U.S. is highly restricted. The U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Services impose many import and export restrictions, prohibitions,
permits or certifications and quarantine requirements on Fish and Wildlife Fish,
wildlife and products made from them. A special permit is required to import ivory
of any kind into the U.S. There are many prohibitions and restrictions on all kinds
of ivory from Asian elephants, African elephant, whale, rhinoceros, seal and many
There are some limited circumstances where you can import ivory into the U.S. Antiques
which are at least 100 years old and made of ivory are permitted to be imported into
the U.S. However, you will need documentation to prove the authenticity and age
of the ivory antique. It is wise to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services if
you are considering importing ivory into the U.S.
History of Ivory Trade
The exploitation of animals for their ivory has been part of man's history for centuries.
The biggest source for ivory has been the tusks of elephants. Carved ivory made
from African elephants has been prized by collectors for its beauty and durability.
A male elephant's tusk (tooth enamel) averages 6 feet in length and weighs 50 lbs.
The Egyptian pharaohs hunted the elephants along the Euphrates River and the Nile
River as early as of the 15th and 16th centuries B.C. During the 17th century A.D.,
the ivory exploitation grew over a large area of Africa which resulted in the decline
of the African elephant. For instance, Kenya's elephant population decline from
130,000 in 1973 to less than 20,000 in 1989. In order to extract ivory from an elephant,
the animal has to be killed because approximately one third of the tusk is embedded
in a bone socket in the skull.
Ivory was a much sought after commodity that was used in the manufacturing of combs,
knife handles, toys, piano keys, furniture, billiard balls and works of art. Asia
had a well-developed ivory carving industry for many centuries. China and India
were the leading importing and manufacturing nations.
Poaching and the Ivory Trade Today
By 1989, the decline of the elephant population was so severe that the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) banned the ivory trade entirely.
One hundred countries agreed to ban the sale of ivory to protect the dwindling African
elephant population. The United States was amongst those 100 countries making it
illegal to import ivory. By 1992, no countries in the world were legally able to
Even though the ivory trade has been halted, illegal poaching still occurs today.
Poachers love the value of ivory in the black market. One large elephant tusk can
sell for up to $7,000. After the raw tusk has been carved into jewelry or other
art forms, there is even more money making opportunities in this illegal trade.
Illegal Ivory is still an issue as an import from China item today. There are only
30,000 to 40,000 Asian elephants left in the world according to the World Wildlife
Fund. The African elephant declined from over 1.2 million in the 1970’s to only
Even though it has been illegal to import ivory from endangered species
into the U.S. since 1989, it is still legal to import tusks from mammoths and other
ivory like materials. This makes it extremely difficult for inspectors to tell the
difference between legal and illegal ivory. The mammoth, a relative to today’s elephant
has been extinct for over 10,000 years. However, there are still at least 13 million
pounds of mammoth tusks existing worldwide. Much of it is preserved in the Arctic
as buried fossils. Importing mammoth ivory is legal because it does harm the lives
of existing wildlife species. Recognizing this loophole, many poachers just claim
that their elephant ivory came from mammoths.
Modern science using forensic technology can tell the difference between ivory from
an elephant or from a mammoth. The equipment requires an expensive scanning electron
microscope ($250,000) and a protractor. But this technology has not been applied
at U.S. border inspection yet. So ivory poaching and importing ivory are growing
and remain problems for the import export trade today.