Ivory Trade Ban Won’t Cost Musicians Their Instruments… but Will Save Elephants

open letter from matt sorum on illegal ivory trade

Heard the one about the Obama administration wanting to confiscate musicians’ instruments when they return from international tours, auditions, etc.? If you’ve spent any time following right-wing media in April, you probably have… and not as a joke. Sites like The Daily Caller claim that the new regulations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designed to fight the international ivory trade  have “made it nearly impossible for orchestras, symphonies and individual performers to travel with [their instruments].” Translation: those silly liberals in the White House care more about elephants than working musicians.

Yep, this sounds a bit overly-simplistic, but there are musicians worried about losing very expensive and treasured instruments, according to the Washington Post. It also has many of them concerned about merely owning such instruments, or attempting to sell them.The Obama administration has issued a revision to the rules to ensure that musicians don’t have to fear having their instruments taken away in any of these cases, but the word about that hasn’t traveled quite as quickly (imagine that!).

The International Fund for Animal Welfare wants to give the real story of the ivory ban a bigger push, and figured a musician might be the best person to speak to the rules involving instruments. So drummer Matt Sorum, who’s played for bands ranging from the Cult, to Guns ‘n’ Roses, to Velvet Revolver, and who’s passionate about wildlife and environmental issues, wrote an open letter to his fellow music makers explaining the regulations concerning ivory on instruments. According to Sorum.

  • a musician can sell an instrument with a permit that shows that s/he has replaced ivory on that instrument with other materials, and
  • antique instruments that contain ivory procured prior to the current poaching epidemic just need documentation of that fact.
matt sorum
Drummer and wildlife activist Matt Sorum

Yes, there are downsides:  the owner of an instrument will have to put that information together, and could lose some value by replacing the ivory on an instrument. Sorum reminds his colleagues

[The threat of elephant extinction] is an issue that needs the attention and support of the music community. We need to be a part of the solution, not the problem.  As much as we all love our instruments, they are in the end just things – not worth contributing to the demise of a species.

A number of musicians, ranging from Sorum’s former bandmates Slash and Duff McKagan, to bass and vocals legend Glenn Hughes, to alt rocker Moby, have showed their support for this campaign on Twitter. Sorum and IFAW encourage reader to share their support of the current ivory trade ban with President Obama.

Are you a musician with an instrument that contains some ivory? Do you think the current regulations safeguard your ownership of your instrument(s) while also addressing the illegal trade in ivory (which funds, among others, criminal syndicates and terrorists)? Share your thoughts with us.

Image credits: IFAW, Wikimedia Commons cc

  1. Joseph Osborne

    I am in the business of buying and selling antique pianos. Does this mean I will have to close? Is the government planning to compensate people in my business for this?

    1. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

      Joseph – As I understand it, antiques aren’t affected: you will need documentation of the antique status of the instruments/ivory. Of course, check with your attorney for actual advice… but I don’t think you’ll be going out of business for this…

      1. Joseph Osborne

        My understanding is that it is illegal to sell anything containing ivory across state lines, no matter what the documentation. I don’t think this is fair. Nobody is putting poached ivory into pianos. And there is a huge amount of used ivory around because so many old pianos are being junked. I have been offered more than 10 old pianos for free in the last six months. Most had ivory key coverings.
        Also, many excellent pianos were made less than 100 years ago, with ivory key coverings.
        There is no useful reason for selling old pianos to be illegal. The poached ivory trade has nothing to do with pianos.

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