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Tuesday, October 16, 2012


The October 2012 issue of National Geographic featured a comprehensive article on ivory.  Two years ago when I dropped Pearl's ashes on Mount Kilimanjaro, my African safari through Tanzania encountered herds of elephants:

African elephants are the largest of terrestrial animals, with males weighing around 12,000 pounds (although the record is 20,000 pounds).  They are high on the intelligence scale with the largest brains of any animal.  While the blue whale can be 20 times heavier than elephants, the latter has twice the brain mass of the former.  Woolley mammoths, incidentally, could have weighed as much as 25,000 pounds, and came after the smaller mastodon.  Elephants are next to chimps and dolphins on the intelligence/awareness scale.

There might have been 5 million elephants in the 1930's.  Today, perhaps half a million in Africa and less than a tenth of that number in Asia.  They are two distinct species.  Only the males in Asia have tusks, both for the African.  This is the problem, for each tusk can be sold by ivory hunters for $6,000, many times what the average worker in Kenya makes in a year.

Here are some troublesome facts:

  -  more than half a million elephants were killed by pouchers in the '70's and '80's (which led to a ban in ivory trading in 1975--and I won't give details because just the treaty name loses me:  Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)

  -  while the execution rates have dropped for the past two decades, in 2006 23,000 elephants and in 2011 25,000 were slaughtered in Africa (multiplying each year by 20 would mean, again, something close to half a million)

  -  while AK-47, rocket launchers and helicopters are utilized by ivory hunters, they also use poisons (in watermelons) to minimize noise

What is ivory:

  -  think teeth or enamel

  -  the tusks are the two upper incisors

  -   if you have teeth, you have ivory

  -  22 pounds of ivory per elephant

  -  in Africa, ivory means elephant

Where should you look for  legal ivory?  Consider the Tundra regions buried in the permafrost.  These would be mammoth tusks.  Here is a timeline:

The article seemed to imply that the Catholic religion, gay men and the people in the Philippines are the primary customers for finished ivory.  Interesting that the Vatican has not signed the treaty mentioned above, for blessed ivory crucifixes are big sellers.  Pope John Paul II gave President Reagan an ivory Madonna, and in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI received an ivory Santo Nino from Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

However, a glance at the countries confiscating the most ivory from 1989-2011 showed that the top four are China, Thailand, Hongkong and Taiwan.  An ivory art piece is a symbol of prosperity to the Chinese.  Philippines was #6.  Yet, keep in mind that the corruption factor in this country allows more ivory to enter.


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