By Lindsay Craig
Ivory is a hard, white substance that is primarily found in the tusks and teeth of animals. Ivory is used for manufacturing, and hunted for sport and trophy. Ivory has been of value since ancient times and is wide spread. It is used for the following, and not limited to: dominoes, fans, and false teeth. Even though you can get it from many mammals such as walrus’, mammoths, sperm and killer whales, narwhals, hippopotamus’, elk, and wart hogs, it is especially controversial in the hunting of elephants to use their tusks.
The use of ivory dates back to Roman and Greek Mythology. They used ivory for their precious religious boxes, they used it as their medium in high valued pieces of art work, and they used ivory to create and decorate high end boxes to place costly objects in. The whites of the eyes that you see in Greek and Roman statues? Most of them are made out of ivory, since it remains so white in color after many years. The Chinese have used ivory for both utilitarian resources and for art for thousands of years. It is documented that the Chinese have been using ivory as early as the first century BC, astonishingly. They hunted and manufactured ivory and then sent it over along the Northern Silk Road for the Western nations to use and consume. The Chinese used ivory to create art--both three dimensional and two dimensional—used it to make images of their deities, used it to make pipe stems, and even used ivory to create and mold opium pipes.
There were countries in Southeast Asia that sent over hundreds of elephant tusks with them on their annual tribute caravan over to China for them to outsource the ivory and send it over to the West to be used. In other Southeast Asia countries, primarily where the Muslim Malay people lived—Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, ivory was served a little different of a purpose. In Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, the used ivory for the making of daggers; they used it on the handles. They used it in the making of their weapons because ivory is a pretty strong inorganic chemical compound that consists primarily of dentine. Contrary to popular knowledge, ivory mainly consists of dentine, and dentine is found in every mammalian teeth or tusks; not just in elephants. The actual chemical compound is as follows: Ca10(PO4)6(CO3)·H2O). It was sometimes also used in Southeast Asia to sign important legal or governmental document as different and unique seal. Ivory was also used to create the faces and hands of Catholic icons and images of saints that were very important to the Santero culture. Santero literally translates to the worshiper of saints, so they used ivory to create their sculptures in order to worship their saints.
It is thought because of the excess sport hunting and killing of elephants to use their tusks in both Northern Africa and Syria is what caused the extinction of elephants. The high demand of ivory in the Classical world left both Northern Africa and Syria void of elephants. Even more things that ivory can create and has been created throughout the world over thousands of years and many centuries: flatware, jewelry, candle sticks and candle holders, teeth, furniture, and piano keys. As stated above, dentine and ivory tusks can be used for a multitude of objects and resources. Ivory is obviously very adaptable and easily morphs into whatever it’s use is, it is widely recognized. Over the past 50 or so years is really where it went from bad to worse. It is now being mass produced to make jewelry and souvenirs for the trophy hunters and travelers alike. There is a common souvenir that travelers and hunters get in Japan, it is called hanko. Hanko was initially made from solid wood, but with the ivories increase in popularity, hanko is now made out of solid ivory. This means that hanko has gone up in price and demand; it’s a great market for ivory today. Making hanko out of straight ivory only takes a matter of seconds, whereas the wood carvings would take upwards of a couple of hours. Because of the increase in demand of hanko, it is thought that it caused the elephant decline that started in the 1980s. During this decade, the elephant population in the country of Africa went from a whopping 1.3 million to 600,000 in just ten years.
With the increase in popularity of ivory, there were many goods that were made of plastic. Don’t get me wrong, we still an incredible influx of plastic and our waste is at an embarrassing level—heck, just read the entire Environment and Society book written by Robbins, Hintz and Moore. It’s all over that book how terrible we as human’s beings our being strictly due to our consumption and destruction of plastic. But, it was once more common than it is now.
Before the influx of ivory, plastic was used for a lot of those goods that are stated above. Plastic was and still is widely used because of its versatile properties as well as its ability to change in to basically any color you want it to be. Namely, white in the beginning. Before ivory, plastic was used to make cutlery, buttons, artwork, ornaments, piano keys, billiard balls, and even bagpipes. The use of plastic has been around since the beginning of the 1800s, and probably before that. Up until the 1970s, billiard balls were strictly made of plastic, not ivory, only changing a short 40 years ago.
Ivory can be extracted from dead mammals, however, most of the ivory that is used today is taking from dead elephants that are hunted strictly for their tusks. To put it into perspective, 40 tons of ivory is extracted from approximately 700 elephants. There are other animals on the endangered species list that are also hunted for sport and for ivory, hippopotamus’ being one of them. Prior to the Donald Trump administration, the hunting, extraction, importation and sale of ivory was illegal in many countries that it was once legal.
The Environmental Investigation Agency stated that CITES sales of hundreds of tons of ivory from Singapore and Burundi—a combined total of almost 400 tons of ivory—is the reason the system increased the value of ivory in the international market. Because of this, there was major reward to the international smugglers. This gave them the ability to control the trade of ivory and continue to smuggle new ivory into primarily the western countries. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is an agreement between governments and how and what species should be on the endangered species list, www.cites.org. It is the goal of CITES to make sure that the international trade of any part of the wild animal in question and any plants in question that no one threatens their survival. CITES was first formed in the early 1960s. It is obvious why we needed CITES and continue to need the organization today. With this organization, it ensures the continuity of both plant and animal species throughout the entire world. This is more important now than it was in the 1960s when it was created. Every year, international plant and animal trade adds up to billions of dollars. As you can predict, billions of dollars equal millions, if not billions, of dead plants and animals world-wide. This, in my opinion, is not okay; and it is certainly not a sustainable lifestyle. With the death of both wildlife and animals, comes the scarcity of food, resources, energy, light, and even chemicals in our precious ecosystems we share. The level of exploitation of ivory has reached record highs, and it just seems to be getting worse.
Since the trade of ivory crosses many borders, even through continents, the regulation gets hairy. CITES is regulated in three primary ways, each equally as important to their respective ecosystems. The three different appendices are listed below, from the degree of protection that the plant or animal may need. In appendix I, there are only species that are under the immediate threat of extinction. The trade of these plants or species are permitted only under certain circumstances. In appendix II, the species and plants that are under this appendix are not under immediate threat of extinction, but the trade of these goods and resources needs to be controlled to avoid their respective, ultimate demise. There is also something less used, it is called the Conference of the Parties. The Conference of the Parties is:
“the supreme decision-making body of the Convention and comprises all its Parties, has agreed in Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP17) on a set of biological and trade criteria to help determine whether a species should be included in Appendix I or II. At each regular meeting of the CoP, Parties submit proposals based on those criteria to amend these two Appendices. Those amendment proposals are discussed and then submitted to a vote. The Convention also allows for amendments by a postal procedure between meetings of the CoP (see Atricle XV, paragraph 2, of the Convention), but this procedure is rarely used.” (www.cites.org/eng/disc/how,php, How CITES works, Appendices I and II).
The species that need to be protected in at least one country are the species that fall under appendix III. This is when at least one country has asked a CITES party for assistance to control the trade of a certain species or plant.
Our president, Mr. Donald Trump, along with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made the collective decision on Friday, November 17th, 2017, collectively decided to reverse the ban on importation of elephant hunting for sport from Zimbabwe to Zambia (Eilperin and Fear, Trump puts hold on this week’s decision to again allow trophies from elephant hunts in Zimbabwe, The New York Times, Nov. 2017). This has been put on hold until further review. This new decision has been immensely protested. Animal rights groups and conservatives alike are upset about this post Obama-era rule that now bars ivory imports into the United States. Mr. Trump has a well known problem with tweeting, again in my humble opinion. After Trump and Zinke made the decision to lift the ban, he tweeted that the ban will continue “until such time as I review all conservation facts,” (Eilperin and Fear, The Washington Post).
As one could easily predict, there was uproar and quite a bit of backlash due to this seemingly rash decision. There is this idea that trophy hunting will actually help save the African elephant species, (Is Trophy Hunting Helping Save African Elephants? Cruise, National Geographic). Sport hunting for ivory is a huge, lucrative business where travelers and locals alike pay upwards of $10,000 for each hunting experience. There is thought that Western hunters are what provides the vital revenue for this African country. “Recent losses are largely from poaching for the illegal ivory trade (some 30,000 elephants a year), but also because of the shrinking habitat for elephants, as people open up land for farming and development,” (Is Trophy Hunting Helping Save African Elephants, Cruise, 2017).
There is an idea that killing more elephants will actually help save the species; however, Cruise argues that this is a counterintuitive strategy to help preserve the species. The idea that hunting will preserve the species is broken down into this principle: “Invite hunters from rich countries to pay generous fees to shoot specified numbers of elephants, and use that money for conservation and to help give local communities a boost. Do that, the theory goes, and poor villagers won’t need to poach elephants to feed their families,” (Is Trophy Hunting Helping Save African Elephants, Cruise, 2017). This idea is good in theory, but the latter argument is simple: don’t hunt elephants for the poaching of ivory, and their species would no longer be in danger. Simply not hunting them for ivory would preserve the species in itself. There is an internationally recognized organization called The International Union for Conservation of Nature and they set the conservation statuses for species. This organization supports this idea that if we hunt more, they will survive more. “Well-managed trophy hunting can provide both revenue and incentives for people to conserve and restore wild populations, maintain areas of land for conservation, and protect wildlife from poaching,” (Is Trophy Hunting Helping Save African Elephants, Cruise, 2017).
The idea that trophy hunting and the poaching of ivory would help the local villagers and their families and their industry, is debunked right away with the numbers, and the statistics of the redistribution of wealth with elephant hunting and ivory poaching. Think of it this way, you take one person out to hunt elephants for their ivory, and they give you $10,000; you might go on one hunting trip with 3 or 4 hunters total, bringing the one trip up to $30,000-$40,000, strictly for the company that takes them hunting. This money that they make, does not go back to their towns and their businesses; it goes back to them and their families. They flourish, but there is no equal redistribution of wealth. Many African countries politics are a crooked. “In Zimbabwe, for instance, individuals associated with President Robert Mugabe have seized lands in lucrative hunting areas. Trophy hunting isn’t stopping poaching, especially in countries that have poor record of protecting their wildlife,” (Cruise, 2017).” I have personally been to the country of Uganda, and I think that there are many other ways for their government and their villages to make money without hunting elephants for their ivory. They have flourishing soil that can grow almost any crop that they want, they have an abundance of chicken, and they also have a huge need to get into politics and help the local villages get general amenities. All of these different monetary options seem like a better idea to me then hunting elephants to poach them for their ivory.
Six African countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Tanzania all have a lot of the remaining savanna elephants. All of these countries allow the sport hunting of elephants regardless of the disappearing elephant populations. In these respective African countries, their elephant population is steadily declining every year. Just in Tanzania alone, it’s elephant population has dropped 60% in just 5 years, (Cruise, National Geographic, 2017). In both of the countries of Mozambique and Tanzania, elephants are now at risk of extinction. Because of this, their products cannot be traded commercially. Devastatingly for the elephants and advocates, trophies are not considered commercial products, so the poaching and selling of ivory is still entirely legal in these countries.
This is all the legal and semi legal ways to hunt and poach elephants for their ivory tusks. There is a whole other market that is strictly the illegal hunting, poaching, production and distribution of ivory tusks. Driven by increasing demand in Asia, “which has led to steep declines in forest elephant numbers and some savanna elephant populations,” (WWF International). Because it is hard to stop the poaching due to weak law enforcement and corruption of governments in these African countries, it is really hard to regulate on a national level. There have been multiple bans through CITES, local governments, foreign government agencies and WWF alike, and these organizations have helped some elephants recover, yet it is still happening, every day. Because we live in a world that is way overpopulated with people, there are less and less protected areas for different species and plants alike. Elephants are incredibly big animals, they need a lot of space, and we are destroying more and more agricultural land to build infrastructures to accommodate for our ever-growing population. Elephants cannot sustain this lifestyle much longer. Elephants’ habitats are shrinking and becoming more spaced out. People and elephants are coming into contact with each other every day, which causes conflict and unnecessary deaths. “Elephants sometimes raid farmers’ fields and damage their crops—affecting the farmers’ livelihoods—and may even kill people. Elephants are sometimes killed in retaliation,” (WWF).
“The illegal trade in elephant ivory is being fueled almost entirely by recently killed African elephants, not by tusks leaked from old government stockpiles, as had long been suspected. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which relies on nuclear bomb tests carried out in the 1950s and ‘60s to date elephant tusks and determine when the animal died. The findings could help efforts to halt the illegal trafficking of ivory, but they also reveal just how little is known about the criminal networks behind elephant poaching,” (Morell, Nov, 2016).
If we continue to kill elephants to poach their tusks for ivory, we as a world will continue to demand ivory goods and material. Simply put, like all things that comprise of our precious ecosystems, we cannot continue to both legally and illegally kill elephants to poach their tusks for ivory. Elephants play a key role in their ecosystems, and they are important to our survival. We do not need ivory, and if the demand for ivory stops, so will the hunting of innocent elephants. There are so many destructive things that our president is doing, but this could be detrimental to the entire elephant species.
CITES Website: https://www.cites.org/eng/disc/what.php
The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2017/11/15/trophies-from-elephant-hunts-in-zimbabwe-were-banned-in-the-u-s-trump-just-reversed-that/?utm_term=.42e89feb41b8 Trump puts hold on this week’s decision to again allow trophies from elephant hunts in Zimbabwe by Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears, Nov. 2017.
National Geographic: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/151715-conservation-trophy-hunting-elephants-tusks-poaching-zimbabwe-namibia/ Is Trophy Hunting Helping Save African Elephants, Adam Cruise for National Geographic, Nov. 17th, 2015.
WWF Website: http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/elephants/african_elephants/afelephants_threats/ Threats to African Elephants.
Science Mag: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/11/recently-killed-elephants-are-fueling-ivory-trade Recently killed elephants are fueling the ivory trade, Virginia Morell, Nov. 7th, 2016, 3:00PM).