Ivory. It comes from elephant tusks, tusks that are used for self-defense, foraging, digging, stripping bark and moving things out of the way. Tusks are also a matter of pride when the male African elephant goes in search of a mate. Ivory. Humans like to make trinkets, piano keys, billiard balls, and jewelry from ivory. In many countries, it is a status symbol, a symbol of wealth. Unfortunately, in order to get the ivory from the tusk of the elephant, the elephant must die, must be murdered. In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the ivory trade, making elephant hunting illegal. Yet an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012.
Look at the picture above. Do you see anything that you would consider to be worth the life of even a single animal, a single elephant? Yet, man will condone killing these majestic animals for no other reason than to own such a trinket.
The most comprehensive studies about elephant populations and poaching have been performed in Samburu in northern Kenya. George Wittemyer of Colorado State University co-founded with Save the Elephants, in association with the Kenya Wildlife Service has been involved in a long-term monitoring program. Data from their studies shows that there was a significant surge in elephant poaching, aka murder, around 2009, which directly co-relates to the price of ivory quadrupling around the same time. In 2014, the price of ivory was recorded at $2,100 per kilo, however by November 2015, it had fallen to just over half of that. Still, poachers and black marketers are making money from the sale of ivory, from the murder of elephants.
Kenyan officials have lost patience with the needless and mindless slaughter of the elephants and yesterday, the Guardian reported that a huge pyre of confiscated tusks and ivory trinkets estimated at a market value of $105 million was burned in Kenya at Nairobi National Park. President Uhuru Kenyatta himself lit the fire with other officials on hand. Why? Because they are hoping to shock the world into protecting the elephants. Kenyatta said: “Kenya is making a statement that for us ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants. This will send an absolutely clear message that the trade in ivory must come to an end and our elephants must be protected. I trust that the world will join us to end the horrible suffering of our herds and save our elephants for future generations.”
The message of the burning of tusks is clear and critical, however there may be a downside. Mike Norton-Griffiths, an environmental economist, says that approximately 5% of the global ivory supply was burned, and that those who trade in ivory will now be even more determined to acquire more. By murdering more elephants.
What is the solution? I think it must be multi-faceted. First, governments of nations must ban the import of ivory. U.S. regulations actually allow ivory to be legally imported and traded, as do other nations. Second, I think that all nations need to come together and form a joint coalition, providing funds and international personnel to help catch poachers and find ways to protect the elephants. Third, there needs to be global education about the true cost of ivory. Trinkets and such may range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, but that is a mere pittance as compared to the life of an elephant. In the law of supply and demand, as long as there is a demand, someone will find a way to supply it. Terry Garcia, the chief science and exploration officer for the National Geographic Society says “We’ve got to begin addressing the issue of demand and how you suppress it. How do you make it socially unacceptable to purchase illegal ivory”? I don’t have any answers, but I think public awareness is the only place we can start, and that is my purpose in writing this article. For more information about elephants and the ivory trade, please take a moment to visit this very informative website: savetheelephants.org