Ivory in the Arctic

 Carving in walrus tusk ivory, depicting walrus and whale hunters

Around the Arctic, many remote Indigenous communities depend on walrus for subsistence, cultural, spiritual, and economic purposes. Walrus tusks are carved into jewelry and artwork, which is often an important source of income for the artists. WWF recognizes that Indigenous Peoples are among the Earth's most important stewards of natural resources. We respect Indigenous and traditional Peoples' human and development rights and recognize the importance of conserving their cultures.

In the United States, Alaska Native peoples' practice of harvesting marine mammals such as Pacific walrus, and utilizing their parts for handicrafts, is protected by federal law.* Alaska's walrus populations are co-managed by the Eskimo Walrus Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. WWF encourages decision-makers to carefully consider the importance of traditional, sustainable use of walrus for food and artwork for the indigenous communities of the Arctic, and to contact these co-management entities to conduct full Tribal Consultation before enacting any legislation affecting the use and sale of walrus ivory. WWF further encourages state governments to consider the federal approach in their state-by-state regulations and to engage with Alaska Native subsistence users when considering potential regulations to avoid unintended outcomes.

WWF often communicates about ivory in our efforts to end the unsustainable poaching of elephants for their tusks. WWF recognizes that the word "ivory" can include material from several species in addition to elephants, including mastodon and mammoth tusks, hippopotamus teeth, narwhal tusks, and walrus tusks. These types of ivory are not covered by the US federal elephant ivory ban although they may be subject to other trade regulations (such as CITES). Importantly, in the US, the Marine Mammal Protection Act specifically allows Alaska Native peoples to sell or trade authentic Native handicrafts from walrus ivory.

To help wildlife inspectors, law enforcement, and researchers distinguish between legally and illegally traded types of ivory, WWF published the Identification Guide for Ivory and Ivory Substitutes, at the request of, and funded by, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in partnership with TRAFFIC and ivory identification experts from the USFWS Forensic Laboratory. It serves as an objective, scientific resource for identifying the most commonly found ivories and artificial substitutes in trade.

*Marine Mammal Protection Act 1972, Sec. 119