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Limits On Ivory Sales, Intended to Protect Elephants, Stir Debate

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The Quinnipiac Law Review will hold a symposium this weekend about ivory trafficking, focusing on controversial ivory laws that went into effect last February.

The new regulations restrict ivory sales in America. There are exceptions for certain types of antiques and musical instruments, but the basic rule is this: if you own an ivory item —- you can’t import, export, or sell it.

John Thomas a professor of law at Quinnipiac University. "I think the issues are with respect to people who have legal ownership of legal items and suddenly find them relatively valueless," he said. "Back in the 19th century, ivory was known as the plastic of time. It was used to adorn all kinds of things. Buttons, combs, hairbrushes. Of course, ivory piano keys. All kinds of detail and decoration on musical instruments, and also, weapons — guns."

The new laws have raised concerns among touring musicians and antiques dealers — who fear that items purchased for thousands of dollars could now be worthless or confiscated.

"If you have one of those items, and it’s been in your family for generations, you will have difficulty selling it," Thomas said. "Because the burden is on you to prove that it came into this country before the mid 1970s, that it is more than 100 years old, and that it hasn’t been modified since that time. We can imagine folks just don’t have the ability to document or prove that kind of information."

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Thomas said the law was crafted to help protect African elephants. Poaching has significantly reduced their population since the late 1970s. Today, conservationists say about 100 elephants are killed a day to feed the global ivory trade.

Thomas, who owns a large collection of antique guitars, including some with ivory components, believes something needs to be done to slow the ivory trade. "I think this is an important enough issue that I’m willing to make the sacrifice," he said. "But that’s easy for me to say, because I have other guitars, right? So I do understand the objections of some."

The panel will be held this Saturday at Quinnipiac Law School and will feature discussions on the international ivory trade and efforts to conserve elephants.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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