European Orchestra Caught in Bureaucratic Snag over Ivory in Bows

June 3, 2014, 1:02 PM · The issue of ivory in bows is becoming a major problem for traveling musicians, as evidenced by the news that seven bows were seized from Budapest Festival Orchestra's string players Saturday from U.S. Customs officials at New York's JFK Airport, according to New York's WQXR Blog and Slipped Disc.

The orchestra gave an all-Dvorak concert in Avery Fischer Hall on Sunday, using borrowed bows. The WQXR Blog reported that they will have to pay fines of $500 per bow in order to retrieve them at JFK Airport, where they have been held in cargo cases.

This comes after quite a lot of work has gone into mitigating the effects of a Feb. 25, 2014 immediate ban by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on traveling with items that contain any African ivory. In May, the ban was amended to allow for traveling with stringed instruments that contain a small amount of ivory, but only under certain conditions.

Bow tipsAccording to Raymond M. Hair, Jr., International President American Federation of Musician of the United States and Canada, in a letter to AFM members: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still requires the following requirements be met before you can safely travel in and out of the U.S. with a musical instrument containing African elephant ivory. It now requires that:

1. The ivory contained in the instrument was legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976;
2. The instrument must not have subsequently been transferred from one person to another person for financial gain or profit since February 25, 2014;
3. The person or group qualifies for a CITES musical instrument certificate;
4. The musical instrument containing African elephant ivory must be accompanied by a valid CITES musical instrument certificate or an equivalent CITES document."

The problem that remains is obtaining that CITES ("Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species") document, which requires applying for said document and producing ownership documents. Even the AFM was having a hard time figuring out how to guide members on this: "Due to lack of guidance from USFWS, there is still confusion over where to go, either online or in person, to apply for and obtain the correct permit. Since musicians have been singled out, we believe there should be a one-stop online center for information specifically regarding musical instruments. These issues should have been addressed along with the amended Order as well. They too must be resolved," Hair said.

What To Do

Here is the best link that I could find about how to obtain a CITES document for traveling with an instrument that contains Brazilian rosewood, elephant ivory, tortoiseshell, or another protected species: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs: Traveling Across International Borders with Your Musical Instrument. Getting such a permit can take up to 60 days, according to the USFWS, which also says that "we are in the process of developing a new application form for the musical instrument passport program." In the meantime, it's pretty confusing.

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June 3, 2014 at 09:38 PM · Just to make things clearer, the Fish and Wildlife Department isn't the source of the problem. They are acting on an executive order from the President.

Many of us in the fiddle trade have attended numerous lectures on the topic, from both enforcement officials and attorneys, and we still don't know how to deal well with this issue yet.

I also think it's important to realize that virtually all Western bow makers are completely in support of the cessation of illegal ivory poaching, and have been using substitute materials for many years now. Not that elephant ivory bow tips really ever contributed significantly to the problem in the first place, and not that enforcement officials can be relied upon to tell the difference between elephant ivory and substitute materials. Even some bow experts are hard-pressed to do so.

That's where things stand at the moment, except that there's one more wrinkle:

It is now pretty close to illegal in the US to sell a bow which contains elephant ivory. Not just a slap on the wrist, but fines and jail time.

June 4, 2014 at 01:19 AM · Hi David,

USFWS didn't issue the original order, but they are still charged with issuing the needed documents, if I understand correctly. Thus they probably will be the ones to clear up the process, if anyone actually does so.

June 4, 2014 at 02:02 AM · I see a special challenge for those with old undocumented and low value bows. I have one with ivory slides in the frog and an ivory tip that has been in my family for over 80 years now. It has a low commercial value as a bow and was never documented, but has sentimental value and is a decent late 19th century German bow.

However, to now take it with me out of the country (again - it has traveled) will require a fair amount difficulty and from looking over the linked application, which I would not be sure how to fill in correctly, may cost more the the commercial value of my bow.

June 4, 2014 at 12:26 PM · In one word : idiots

June 4, 2014 at 12:38 PM · We bought our daughter a Richard Grunke (b. 1930) bow on February 12 with no knowledge of this impending regulation. The bow, according to Fred Oster at Vintage Instruments, who sold it to us, was probably made before 1975, but we have no proof of any of this, nor any way to prove it. The bow has an ivory frog. Suddenly we have a $4000 bow that we cannot sell and our daughter cannot take out of the country. And this is her bow--she doesn't have an arsenal to choose from.

June 4, 2014 at 07:10 PM · here is the AFM info

June 4, 2014 at 11:53 PM · I am suspecting Americans are under scrutiny all over the world right now. Be prepared for this when traveling. Do not lose your cool. It will validate American stereotyping. When possible cooperate and expect delays. The Reagan years are over. Really disappointing when it trickles down to the young violin students. Be prepared to educate regarding cultural unfairness.

June 5, 2014 at 08:54 PM · Where does Mammoth Ivory stand in this insanity?

June 8, 2014 at 12:59 AM · Suggestion: donate to a museum any bow which contains a part of an animal which is on the endangered species(or protected species) list and purchase a new bow if possible. While I do sympathize with the bow owners who have African ivory(or tortoise shell etc,) the publicity of the situation just might be one more discouragement for anyone wishing to import /bring ivory into the country for illegal gain. I support the President taking a firm stand. I have been told that most African ivory, no matter what year it was taken, has come from elephants that were killed specifically for the tusks. Hopefully the matter will be clarified soon.

June 8, 2014 at 03:49 PM · keep your bows home that might be seized. travel abroad with a substitute bow if possible to avoid any hassles. ie a good carbon fiber bow.or boworrow/rent bows at the concert protect your bows that might be confiscated under these regulations.

June 9, 2014 at 05:28 PM · Violin repairmen use only bone or Mammoth ivory nowadays. Mammoth ivory is not included in the ban of ivory. The best answer I see is to use a Carbon Fibre bow for travelling abroad. It has no pernambuco, brasilwood or ivory of any kind.

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