In February 2014, the Director of the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued Director’s Order 210, which radically changed the regulatory landscape governing the import and export of African & Asian Elephant ivory.  The Obama administration, in response to increasingly dire reports on the state of African Elephant populations released by international conservation agencies and UN-affiliates, had begun taking steps to combat poaching as early as July 2013. The Director’s Order was only one part of a set of administrative actions that the administration called for under the National Strategy on Combating Wildlife Trafficking in February 2014. The effect on the antiques market was pronounced. Commercial import of African elephant ivory, with narrow exceptions, was banned, and the requirements for acquiring CITES export licenses for all endangered species were substantially raised.

While the Federal Authorities were engaged on the issue, the New York State Legislature had also been considering taking action of its own to restrict the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horn within New York State.  In June, allegedly spurred to action by the death of the beloved 50 year old Kenyan elephant Satao, the Legislature passed a law imposing such restrictions. This new law prohibits the sale of elephant and mammoth ivory and rhinoceros horn which is less than 100 years old and prohibits the intrastate sale of antique objects containing more than 20% of these materials. Additionally, in the effort to stem the trade of illegal ivory in the state, civil and criminal penalties were strengthened, and the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) ability to investigate violations of endangered species regulation was augmented.  The New York regulator, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (the “DEC”), issued guidelines about the new restrictions in early December.

The impact on Sotheby’s business and clients has been noticeable, although not unmanageable. Due to the new restrictions on age and composition for sale in New York State, some previously legal pieces are now considered unsaleable. Additionally, because of the high documentary burden required by USFWS, some pieces may not be legally exported out of the U.S. Heightened scrutiny by both the DEC and USFWS is now an unavoidable facet of our business, which may result in increased delays when applying for export or sale permits. However, Sotheby’s has continued to successfully sell and export antiques containing ivory and other endangered species throughout this process, and is committed to complying with federal and state law aiming to save the world’s elephants. We encourage you to discuss these newly developing issues with your clients and to use Sotheby’s as a resource when considering the valuation and sale of objects including endangered species material.


Elyse M. Dreyer is North American Compliance Counsel for Sotheby’s and is based in New York.  Prior to joining Sotheby’s in 2008, Elyse was an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton, with a practice focusing on international arbitration, complex domestic litigation and international and internal investigations arising from regulatory enquiries. She also served as a law clerk to the Honorable Allyne R. Ross in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Elyse received her J.D. from Columbia Law School and a B.S. from The Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Elyse has a working knowledge of French. 

Matthew Carville joined Sotheby’s in 2012 as the Compliance Assistant in New York. He graduated from the University of Chicago, having studied Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations with a focus on Egyptology.  He assists Jane Levine and Elyse Dreyer with the daily queries coming into the department, sale reviews and internal audits.