Without ensuring your elephant or rhino item is legal you could be contributing to the killing of elephants and rhinos, driving them to extinction. Always make sure your item was legally acquired to ensure you are not contributing to poaching or illegal trade.
Threats facing elephant and rhinos
Elephants and rhinos are facing extinction as a result of unsustainable population decline driven by poaching and trafficking for their tusks (elephants) and horn (rhino), as well as other body parts.
Elephant ivory can be carved into an infinite array of objects such as jewellery, piano keys, furniture inlays and other items. Like elephant ivory, rhino horn can also be carved into an array of objects. Other times ivory and horn may remain raw and in the original tusk or horn form. Additionally, other parts of both animals such as feet and skulls are valued as statement or souvenir items. Without knowing how or when your item was acquired you could be unintentionally contributing to elephant and rhino population decline.
Laws and regulations
Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) regulates movements of animals, plants and products to and from Australia. The Act helps to protect the environment from risks associated with the international movement of wildlife. It is also how Australia meets its obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement to regulate wildlife trade between countries. For more information about Australian and CITES regulations regarding international trade (including for non-commercial or other products) please see the drop-down menu below.
State and territories have different regulations regarding trade of wildlife products including elephant ivory and rhino horn. Contact the relevant state or territory department to find out more.
Jane owns two small rhinos carved from ivory which have been passed down her family. After finding out how elephants are killed for their tusks, she decides she no longer wishes to own these pieces. However, given their sentimental value she would prefer to send these items to her brother overseas rather than destroy the pieces.
Before Jane can send these pieces, she must be able to demonstrate that the pieces are lawfully in Australia. Fortunately, Jane has an old photograph of the two carvings from 1968 which demonstrates the items were in Australia before being listed on CITES Appendix I. To send the pieces overseas Jane must check the import laws and requirements of the country where her brother lives and apply for and receive an Australian Pre-Convention export certificate. After receiving all her documentation, she can send the items overseas to her brother.
Be like Jane and be aware of all the regulations before trading in ivory or rhino horn.
All species of rhinoceros are listed under CITES. An Appendix I listing applies to all five species with the exception of populations of the southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) from South Africa and Swaziland which are listed on Appendix II. While trade in hunting trophies and live animals is allowed in certain circumstances for populations listed on Appendix II of CITES, Australia has introduced measures to restrict trade in rhino specimens, including rhino horn hunting trophies.
These measures include:
- permits are not issued to import hunting trophies of Appendix II listed southern white rhino
- rhino hunting trophies are not allowed to be imported as personal and household effects
- radiocarbon dating is required to conclusively prove the age of vintage rhino horn for export.
All species of elephants are listed under CITES. An Appendix I listing applies to all species with the exception of populations of African elephant (Loxodonta africana) from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe which are listed on Appendix II. While trade in hunting trophies and live animals is allowed in certain circumstances for populations listed on Appendix II of CITES, Australia has introduced measures to restrict trade in elephant specimens to treat all elephant populations as though they are listed on Appendix I to CITES. This means that no trade for commercial or personal purposes is allowed, except in specimens that are older than 1975.
Private ownership of elephant and rhino products in Australia is legal if the items were imported lawfully to Australia. Unlawfully imported products can be seized.
If you own or possess an elephant or rhino product you must be able to show, if asked, that the product is lawfully in Australia. For example, you may have a copy of an import permit, receipt or photographic evidence indicating when the product arrived in Australia. Keep this in mind if you inherit or give away products such as ivory or rhino horn in Australia. You do not need to ask us to certify or assess your personally owned items, if you intend to keep it and not move to another geographical location.
CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is an international agreement to ensure that trade does not cause species to become extinct. It operates using a permit system depending on how endangered the animal or plant is. Further information is available at: CITES.
The requirement for a pre-Convention certificate affects all elephant and rhino products, including but not limited to:
- Ivory tusks, carvings and ornamentation.
- Horns and horn carvings.
- Leather including garments, furnishings and taxidermied specimens.
- Hair, including jewellery.
- Bones and teeth.
- Dung or other by-products.
You need to get the pre-convention Certificate before you move your goods internationally—whether you intend to carry the goods with you or send them by post or freight.
Without a certificate, you are breaking the law. Your goods could be seized and you could be liable for significant penalties including fines.
CHECK THE IMPORT LAWS AND REQUIREMENTS OF THE DESTINATION COUNTRY to see if your ivory is allowed to be imported. The contact details are available at: international CITES Management Authorities.
You can apply for an Australian pre-Convention export certificate at Wildlife Trade Permit Application. You will be asked for evidence about the age and origin of the item such as:
- A statutory declaration from the owner.
- Receipts or any other documentation that supports the statutory declaration.
- An age assessment from an independent expert – there are special requirements for rhino horn (below).
- Previous CITES documentation, if applicable.
- Colour photographs of the item.
- Dimensions of the item, including height, width and weight.
- Distinguishing markings including unique serial numbers, identifiers or maker’s marks, if available.
You must obtain a pre-Convention certificate from the CITES Management Authority of the country of export. Before moving the item email a copy of the certificate to the Department at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can check that that it meets Australia’s strict import laws.
You must declare the item at the Australian border. You must present it for inspection together with the pre-Convention certificate.
You must then send the original certificate to us as the CITES Management Authority of Australia at GPO Box 858, Canberra ACT 2601 (unless the Australian Border Force has collected the certificate). Please keep a copy for your records.
Pre-Convention certificates are valid for one international movement of the item only. It is not like a passport. It has no value after you have used it.
Please contact email@example.com for advice.
Penalties apply for the possession of specimens that have been illegally imported and range up to $210,000 for an individual ($1,050,000 for a body-corporate) and/or 10 years imprisonment.
Independent experts can assess the age of elephant ivory. You can try museum or antiques experts or you can look at the list of approved valuers - Cultural Gifts Program.
The assessor must not have a financial or other interest in the item. This means the assessment cannot be from an auction house that is involved in selling the item.
The assessment results must include the approximate age of the item and detailed reasons why the assessor believes the item to be that age. The credentials of the assessor should be included as an attachment.
You are responsible for any costs associated with the assessment.
You must obtain a radiocarbon dating age analysis that demonstrates the horn is from an animal that died before 1957.
Rhino horns that are proven through radiocarbon dating to be younger than 1957 cannot be exported as commercial or personal items under any circumstances.
The analysis can only be obtained from one of the following institutions:
- Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Earth Sciences in Canberra, ACT
- Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Lucas Heights, NSW
You need a referral from us. You are responsible for organising the testing, including contacting the institution, transporting the horn, and paying all costs. The Department does not determine the fees for these services.
Testing can take approximately two months. If the results are inconclusive, the institution may ask you for a second sample. You will be responsible for any additional costs.
The institution will send a copy of the testing results to you and to the Department. It will include details of the horn, including photographs.
You then need to apply an Australian pre-convention export certificate as described above.