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Elephants or Ivory? Which do we want?
Synthetic ivory is also called “Mandarin Ivory” or “Hong Kong Ivory”. It does not come from elephants or harm any endangered species. That alone makes it more beautiful. If it continues to be essential that we have beautiful works of art such as ivory statues and ivory carvings – then let these objets d’art be made of synthetic ivory not real ivory from intelligent, self-aware, living animals.
Trading of elephant ivory has been going on since the 14th century BC, but it was most prevalent in southern Africa in the 19th century and in Western Africa during the 20th century. 1979 estimates of elephant populations in Africa were 1.3 million, by 1989 only 600,000 were left. The illegal trade of elephant ivory was fueled by its value in buying arms, and was found to be greatest in areas where law and order had severely broken down.
Reference: Kenya Elephant Forum Factsheet 02
Although ivory was used for many things before plastics (piano keys and billiard balls, for example), the major surge in demand for ivory came with the growth in affluence following World War II. Good quality raw ivory has always been in demand by artists and expert carvers the world over. Ivory is considered a luxury commodity that once could be enjoyed only by royalty.
The Greatest Dangers to Elephants
The greatest dangers to all elephants is poaching and the encroachment of humans with the inevitable destruction of the elephants large grazing and mating area. The decline of the Asian elephant has been more gradual than the African elephant because the serious issue of trade in elephant ivory has affected the African elephant more. But now both species have been placed on Appendix One of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
African and Asian Elephants
We can distinguish African (savannah and forest) elephants and Asian elephants in many ways, but one of the most obvious is the size of the ears. The African elephant has much larger ears than the Asian elephant. Another obvious way is by the tusks. African elephants, both males and females, have tusks that are longer and thicker than Asian male elephants who have thinner and straighter tusks. It is interesting to know that elephants are like us in that they are right-tusked or left-tusked. The shorter of the two tusks will be the one most used.
Elephants are Self-Aware, Intelligent, Caring Animals
I find it extremely difficult to turn a ‘blind eye’ to the annihilation of elephants for the monetary value of ivory to purchase illicit drugs or weapons, or for the carnal or sensory value of ivory in any form: jewelry, collectables or even art.
When you learn that elephants are self-aware, they recognize themselves in mirrors, they are willing to share responsibilities, they will form a team to accomplish tasks, and they show empathy for others in their family, it is difficult to think of elephants in terms of just being big brutes.
Reference: Joshua M. Plotnik, Frans B. M. de Waal, and Diana Reiss (2006) Self-recognition in an Asian elephant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103(45):17053–17057 10.1073/pnas.0608062103
Reference: http://news.discovery.com/videos/Animals: Elephants Show Cooperation on Test
And when I learned that elephants show definite signs of altruism (they give to one another without expecting anything in return), I just wanted to bring a few right into my own home!
In science fiction, self-awareness is considered an essential characteristic of “personhood”. When computers become self-aware like Hal did in Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey, it is expected that they be treated with the same respect that humans are. Gives one pause for thought, doesn’t it.
Reference: Robert Kolker, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, p. 106, Oxford University Press US, 2006 ISBN 978-0195174526
An Unusual Outcome of Killing Tusked Elephants
The decline of elephants with no tusks has (apparently) led to more births of tusk-less elephants as a result of the great increase of the “absent tusk gene”. Once a rare abnormality, being born without tusks has become widespread.
Reference: The Learning Kingdom's Cool Fact of the Day for March 30, 1999: Why are African elephants being born with no tusks?
There is No Choice:
If Intent on Buying Ivory Buy Synthetic Ivory Only
Ivory art, jewelry, and collectables (such as the erotic Japanese netsukes) continue to be in high demand. Especially when the item is antique and considered of value. These items continue to be traded within countries but not between countries due to it being illegal. But capitalism being the mother of invention has created a synthetic ivory that looks every bit as beautiful as real ivory. So if you appreciate the aesthetic appeal of ivory art but do not wish to pay the price for antique ivory then “Hong Kong” ivory or “Mandarin” ivory is certainly the way to go.
The picture on the right is of an antique ivory Puzzle Ball and particularly intricate real antique ivory stand. It is made from real elephant tusk ivory.
It is carved by a true ivory carving 'master' which gives it much of its value. Compare the Puzzle Ball in this image with the synthetic ivory Puzzle Ball, below. Both are beautiful and both required the skill of a master carver. But the Puzzle Ball below is made of ox bone not an elephant.
Ox bone is now used to make “Hong Kong” ivory. It is ground into a fine powder and mixed with resins to form a certain shape and size. It would also have the weight and feel of real ivory.
The incredibly Beautiful and intricate Chinese Puzzle Ball.
One of the most fascinating of ivory carvings is the Chinese Puzzle Ball. Taken from a solid ball of synthetic ivory it would be turned on a lathe and evenly spaced conical holes would be drilled into the ball. A master carver would take his L-shaped tools and, using the longest tool with the shortest angle, would carve out the first of say, eight balls within the round ball. He would work from the center outwards until he had his separate balls, one inside the other, each ball able to revolve freely within the outer balls.
The outer ball would in fact, be 2 layers thick because it is the outer ball that would have the most intricate carvings. These outer carvings would be thicker than the carvings on the inner balls in order to preserve the integrity of the puzzle ball.
Shown are two puzzle balls. The one above, is a valuable antique carved from real ivory. The ivory is cream, the natural color of the ivory.
The image to right (and slightly above) is also a puzzle ball but it is made from “Hong Kong” ivory, not elephant ivory. It has all the intricacy of the antique puzzle ball, but stands alone. (It would usually rest on top of a specially made stand that would then rest on the typical wooden base.) The color is whiter than natural ivory because it has been bleached. The whiter ivory is what is found in most “collectable” ivory art today.
The Third Species of Elephant
- African forest elephant - by JKenny. This is a superb article on this very special elephant.
African Forest Elephants Rumble in the Jungle
Important Update: March 2013
The 178-Nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) met in Thailand earlier this month. It's main purpose was to address the extremely urgent issue of the slaughter of elephants and rhinos for the illegal ivory trade.
According to CITES Director-General John Scanlon,
"This criminal activity poses a serious threat to the stability and economies of these countries. It also robs these countries of their natural heritage," Scanlon said. "These criminals must be stopped, and we need to prepare to deploy the sorts of techniques that are used to combat the trade in narcotics to do so."
During the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, activists held posters urging people to also stop the trading of tigers.
Elephant Sized Steps Taken to End Ivory Trade
An elephant-sized step was taken March 3, 2013 by Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who vowed to end her country’s trade in ivory. But because the local market in ivory is skyrocketing, smuggled ivory from African countries is mixed in with already existing internal supply and continuing to push an unprecedented slaughter of elephant in Africa.
The 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), that met in Bangkok in early March, was encouraged by this statement but, until Thailand develops and implements national legislation banning trade in ivory, the poaching crisis in Africa will not likely abate as much as hoped. Until Thailand legislates not to trade in smuggled ivory, trade sanctions can be imposed by CITES member countries to halt trade in all 35,000 species regulated by the convention.
CITES banned international trade in ivory in 1989. However, this has no affect on those countries that have a strong domestic trade in ivory collected from domestic elephants.
According to CITES Director-General John Scanlon, illegal wildlife trafficking is in crisis and, unless this stops, the planet will lose many of its most iconic species. The slaughter of elephants and rhinos is at the top of 70 concerns to be addressed at the global conference.
If you really like ivory art and want to buy some today, there is no question but that you purchase only synthetic ivory and do no harm to the intelligent animals known as elephants.
© 2011 Marilyn Alexander