Wide-ranging bill to end sales already given unanimous backing at the initial stage
A bill that looks set to become law in New York State will
prohibit the wholesale purchase or sale of any elephant
ivory in the state - regardless of age. Penalties for doing so
will be significantly increased.
Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, chairman of the Assembly Standing
Committee on Environmental Conservation (CEC), is the primary
sponsor of bill A8824, which has 29 other co-sponsors. It follows
new federal laws on the trade in ivory works of art announced in
The CEC have already passed the measures unanimously, attracting
praise from conservation organisations.
The move to make New York a no-go area for trade in ivory
follows a January hearing in New York City attended by interested
parties, including the antiques trade.
Despite opposition from Sotheby's and Christie's, Assemblyman
Sweeney believes the current laws that allow trade in worked
antique ivory are subject to abuse and, in many cases,
At the January hearing, officers for the United States Fish and
Wildlife Service highlighted the problems of determining the age of
ivory and distinguishing between African elephant ivory and ivory
from other species (including mammoth ivory that will also be
banned under the proposed legislation). The falsification of
paperwork (currently, the sale of ivory in New York requires a
licence from the Department of Environmental Conservation) was also
said to be a frequent problem.
Sweeney said that while the existing law made exceptions for
older ivory, "the problem is, according to the testimony we
received at the hearing, there is not any way short of essentially
dismantling the ivory object to determine what is antique and what
If passed, the new law would "prohibit the sale, offer for sale,
purchase, trade, barter, or distribution other than to a legal
beneficiary of an ivory article" and have a huge impact on the
Christie's are opposing the legislation because it "would go
well beyond what is needed to stop the slaughter of elephants for
illegal elephant ivory and would end the legal and legitimate trade
of antiquated objects containing ivory". They argue an exception
should be made for "reputable museums, auction houses and others in
the legitimate art market".
Although Sotheby's support the bill's motive - tackling poaching
and trying to protect endangered species - they oppose it in its
current form "because it will eliminate the important market for
valuable works of art and other collectibles that are antique or
were made well before the international regulation of ivory".
Where most parties agree, however, is that penalties for
breaking the current law are deemed too light, with fines in the
region of $2000 for the sale of post-convention ivory. The new bill
would increase the penalties to a Class D felony ($25,000) and a
Class E felony (up to $250,000) for repeat offenders.
Meanwhile the new federal rules aimed at restricting the sale of
ivory across the US are making for some unlikely bedfellows. An
unusual assortment of trade groups opposes the regulations (due to
come into force by June), including the National Association of
Music Makers, the Art and Antiques Dealers League of America and
the National Rifle Association. Some museums are also concerned
about the regulations, which will eliminate charitable tax
deduction for all donated ivory works, regardless of their age.
In essence, the new regulations will ban the commercial imports
of African ivory of any age, while domestic and export trade will
be limited to antiques defined as objects more than 100 years
It is understood the new rules will also apply to rhinoceros
horn, sperm whale teeth, tortoiseshell and certain woods that are
also regulated under the USA's 1973 Endangered Species Act.
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