Dear Animal Legal & Historical Center,
My 78-year-old mother was given a Bengal tiger skin by her grandfather when she got married in 1964. The tiger skin has been on the wall of our home since my parents moved there in 1964. My mother would like to sell the tiger skin if that is legal. If not, she wants to donate it if possible.
How can I find out the legality of selling the tiger skin and what documentation would be required? Are there any lawyers you can refer me to?
A Curious Reader
Dear Curious Reader,
Thank you for writing. Our website functions as a digital law library, so we are unable to provide legal advice or attorney referrals. I can, however, give you some information that may help in your research of the issue.
Selling animal-derived objects can get complicated (as these articles explain, see http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/fts/tulsa_201104A36.html and http://www.fws.gov/international/pdf/factsheet-can-i-sell-it.pdf) as several laws may be at issue.
The protection for endangered species listed by the multi-national treaty CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) or the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) extends to products made from endangered animals listed under CITES. Sale of products made from those species is generally prohibited. If the coat is made from a listed animal, sale will be prohibited (see http://www.cites.org/eng/disc/species.php for species). Tigers are protected under both international law (CITES) and federal law (the Endangered Species Act, among others).
The main issue here will be moving the coat through interstate commerce (across state lines). In theory, you could obtain a pre-CITES certificate allowing at least interstate movement and maybe sale of the coat, but you may have to have some proof of ownership/possession before 1975. The FAQ by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) may be able to provide some general information: http://www.fws.gov/international/pdf/factsheet-can-i-sell-it.pdf.
It may be helpful to contact the USFWS directly to find out what you would need to do if you want to sell the coat. Some animal advocacy organizations do accept donations of fur coats, which are then given to individuals in need or for animals in wildlife rehabilitation (you can Google "donation of fur coats for wildlife").
I hope this information is helpful.
Rebecca F. Wisch
Animal Legal & Historical Center