Musicians win exemption from elephant ivory ban

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The Obama administration on Thursday said it will create an exemption to a ban on African elephant ivory to ensure that musicians can travel overseas with their instruments.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) upset the music community in February when it announced a travel and sales ban on products that contain elephant ivory. Musicians had warned the rule could end their careers because antique instruments they use often contain ivory.

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The agency said the new exemption should ensure that musicians are free to travel around the globe for performances.

"We know that for musicians their instruments are their livelihood," FWS Director Dan Ashe said Thursday in a press call with reporters.

Many instruments that contain ivory, such as violins, cellos, pianos and guitars, would have fallen out of circulation without the exemption, critics said.

The exemption announced by the FWS will allow musicians to travel with instruments that were made with elephant ivory before 1976.

"These revisions will make it easier for musicians to transport certain musical instruments internationally," Ashe said.

"Our goal is to ease the burden on musicians traveling with instruments that contain ivory without diminishing the protection for African elephants," he added.

Groups representing musicians lobbied the administration to alter the rule. Musicians argued that their antique instruments do not contribute to current poaching of African elephant because instruments are no longer made with ivory.

“Although ivory is no longer used in the manufacture of new musical instruments, many older musical instruments, such as guitars and bows, feature very small amounts of ivory and are still in use by artists today,” wrote Todd Dupler, director of government relations at The Recording Academy, which issues the Grammy Awards, in a recent blog post.

Nevertheless, musicians will not be allowed to sell these instruments going forward, as the FWS intends to uphold the previous sales ban on musical instruments containing ivory.

Ashe said the sales exemption applies to musical instruments that were purchased before Feb. 25, when the agency first announced the ban. But instruments that have been sold since then would not be covered.

"People who own African elephant ivory and their families can continue to own them, they can be passed down to children and grandchildren," Ashe said, but they can’t be sold.