The Use of Ivory in Bagpipes


Elephant Ivory mounts, ferrules and ring caps were traditionally used on bagpipes for hundreds of years. However, from 1979-1989, the population of African elephants declined from 1.3 million to 600,000. As many as 36,000 elephants are poached each year for their ivory. Asian elephant numbers are a fraction of what they used to be and are close to extinction in several areas. In 1989, the CITES treaty made it illegal to buy, sell or trade Asian elephant ivory after 1976 and African elephant ivory after 1989. Anything more than 100 years old that has not been reworked is considered "antique".

Some bagpipe manufacturers, like MacLellan bagpipes, still have access to pre-CITES ivory. For those who don't, there are other options available to get the look of ivory on theirĀ  bagpipes. Mammoth ivory is very similar to elephant ivory except that it is slightly darker in color. It still has the Schreger lines of elephant ivory. Large quantities of mammoths have been found frozen in the ice in Russia, Siberia and Alaska. Since they have been extinct for over 10,000 years, they are not an endangered species like the elephants, so it is completely legal to import and export. Kron and Gellaitry Bagpipes use mammoth ivory on some of their pipes.

Another alternative is Imitation ivory. It can be manufactured from many products like cellulose nitrate or casein. It is used by McCallum, Wallace and Naill among others. Some companies, like Dunbar, are able to engrave their specially made delrin imitation ivory. Vegetable ivory, made from the Tagua or "Phytelphas" palm tree, is another alternative,though not as common. Phytelphas, which literally means "elephant plant", produces large fruits that have ivory-like nuts.

If you do have bagpipes with real ivory and plan to travel with them, make sure to have proper documentation for importing and exporting to and from each country to you are going to, including your origin. You will likely need a CITES document stating the origin and year of harvest of the ivory.

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