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By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Thursday took steps to allow limited exceptions to its broad prohibition on the commercial trade in elephant ivory, exempting certain older musical instruments with ivory components as well as ivory in museum and art exhibitions.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement the "common-sense adjustments" were made after the agency listened to "very real concerns" lodged since the near-total elephant ivory ban announced in February.
The ban was designed to combat wildlife trafficking that threatens African elephants and other species with extinction.
Ashe signed an order that allows musicians to transport internationally certain musical instruments containing African elephant ivory. The order also allows for the import of certain museum and art specimens not intended for sale.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the owners of such items had to prove they were legally acquired before the date in 1976, when African elephants were protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and that they had not been bought or sold since the new U.S. ban went into effect in February.
The exceptions relate to musical instruments like pianos with ivory keys, string instruments with bows made with ivory pieces and bagpipes with ivory fittings, the agency said.
The agency said it had heard from musicians and major orchestras that the rules had became a problem for professional musicians with very old instruments, making it hard for them to travel outside the United States on tour and come back with their instruments. It noted that old instruments with old ivory would not impact the global demand for ivory.
"We have one goal: to shut down the illegal trade in ivory that is fueling the poaching crisis facing African elephants today. By implementing a near complete ban on trade in elephant ivory, we are effectively closing loopholes and eliminating the cover provided by legal commercial trade that traffickers have exploited for years," Ashe said.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Tom Brown)