Meeting the Challenges of the Ivory Act


An OPEN Public Policy Challenge Fund project, 2023-4.

Investigative team


Ashley Coutu, Research Curator, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Mariam Rosser-Owen, Curator, Victoria and Albert Museum

Melanie Riley, Ivory Policy Lead, Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs

Sonia O'Connor, Research Fellow, University of Bradford

Matthew Winterbottom, Curator, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Thandi Wilson, Project Assistant


  • assessing the best methods available for ivory identification
  • analysing their reliability/suitability for practical application
  • creating a digital guide to ivory items for museum professionals and policy makers
  • increasing the number of national experts able to identify historical ivory items
Ivory objects on a table


The Ivory Act 2018 is regulated by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) for the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra)

This UK legislation bans dealing in ivory except for five narrow exemptions, including an exemption for items that rare and most important of their type. The Act prescribes institutions (Pls) who have the necessary expertise to assess items for their rarity, and historical and cultural importance (currently 9 Pls) before an exemption can be granted (see here for details).

There is limited expertise in the UK and internationally on identifying different types of ivory items from different geographic locations and dating those items to assess their rarity, historical or cultural importance.

This project creates a network that includes government departments, prescribed institutions, wildlife inspectors, museum curators and conservators, enforcement bodies, and universities, to share expertise around the identification of historical items made from ivory.

Through a series of workshops, we will learn the best scientific and non-scientific methods available for ivory identification and assess their reliability/suitability for practical application. Drawing on the expertise and extensive research archive of ivory expert, Sonia O'Connor, we will create a digital guide to ivory items in a concise, accessible format that can be used by museum professionals and policy makers.

We also hope to establish a digital reference collection of ivory objects with a guide to their origins and identification. The guide and reference collection will become recognized standard sources. They will be 'live' and updated when new materials become available. This project will increase the number of national experts identifying historical ivory items, by training a new cohort of experts in ivory identification. This will enable government to draw on a much wider body of expertise for assessing ivory items under the Ivory Act and related legislation such as CITES.