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The "Elephant" In the Room - Traveling with Ivory

Well-Rounded Musician

In 2011 I had the pleasure of traveling overseas to perform with an ensemble. Not only was I incredibly fortunate to have such an opportunity, but the coordination and planning required for the visit were overseen by a management team. It's been five years and now I am considering another overseas trip, but this time as a solo traveler where it is "on me" to orchestrate. 

In that five-year time frame, the rules of traveling abroad have changed a bit, particularly one elephant-sized problem: the 2014 ban on ivory. In researching permits and overall processes involved in traveling (airlines, carry-on luggage, overhead storage, etc.) I've discovered that the entirely separate set of Federal Government rules and regs regarding travel for my bassoon is excruciatingly complicated. 

Like so many older bassoons, my 5000 series Heckel has a ring of ivory on the bell.  African Elephant Ivory is one of the endangered species (Asian elephant ivory, sea turtle shell, and Brazilian rosewood, are several others), that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Act of 2014 specifies as not permitted to be imported. Since many instruments have this endangered species issue, the government has established criteria for the permitting of instruments.

What Do I Need?: I must file for and obtain a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Permit that, once accepted, is then valid for three years.

How Do I Get it?: There's a lot of homework that goes along with authenticating an instrument in order to prove that it, and the endangered species therein, was produced before February 26, 1976. (This date is considered “Pre-Convention” and will allow you to get the passport. However, if your instrument was produced after this date, your only options are to either remove it or not travel internationally with it.)  There are forms to fill out, instrument appraisals to be completed, provenance (history of ownership) to be outlined and fees to be paid.  Once completed to the Service's approval, the passport will be sent. Yeah, you're done!  Well, no, not exactly.

The Fine Print: What isn't apparent is that just obtaining a permit does NOT grant you permission to simply exit or enter into the United States. There are additional rules you need to follow. They include: checking in with inspectors at the airport (both upon departure and arrival), traveling through the designated Ports of Entry (aka. specific airports), providing 48 hour prior email notifications of your travel plans, paying overtime to inspectors should your departure/arrival not be during regular business hours (8 am - 4 pm), and completing additional forms (Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife)....!!!

A fellow bassoonist and traveler, Joey Grimmer, has carefully delineated these steps in his July 2015 blog - Traveling Musicians, Auditions are Stressful Enough.  He's provided a step-by-step explanation of all of the ins and outs of an international traveling bassoon. After personally dealing with the ups and downs of the new law, Mr. Grimmer ultimately decided that it was in his best interest to have the ivory removed from his 10,000 Heckel bassoon. 

So, should you have ivory on your instrument or another endangered species, and you are planning a trip, or you would just like to know the facts for future travel, I highly recommend looking at his blog Agony and Ivory: The Ultimate Guide to Ivory for Musicians, July 2015  for great, current and detailed information.

With a few months until wheels up, now it's my turn to weigh the pros and cons of ivory removal...



Bassoon Travel

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