Are ivory trade days numbered?
By Ridhi Chhabra
Ivory has held a unique fascination for mankind since time immemorial - it mainly comprises the tusks of an elephant that are considered highly valuable for many reasons. Ivory is seen as a status symbol because of the high price and artwork done on the tusks.
Though ivory is also obtained from the tusks of rhinoceros, walrus (a large gregarious marine mammal related to the eared seals, having two large downward-pointing tusks) and narwhals (a medium-sized toothed whale); elephant ivory is highly priced due to its smooth texture, less outer covering of enamel and the ease by which it is carved. It is sold at an exorbitant price by the poachers who kill animals for ivory.
Elephants are culturally significant in African and Asian countries and Indian history tells us that ivory was widely used in ancient India as many texts are full of descriptions of costly furniture made of ivory for the royalty and ivory thrones, human figures, palanquins of carved ivory for the royal women, earrings and silver orgold mounted bangles. In ancient China, jewellery, vessels, tools and other products were made out of ivory and the same have been recovered by archeologists. The huge demand in these countries and the ban on new production of ivory has made the commodity rare and more expensive.
Ivory has been traded for hundreds of centuries leading to the endangerment of the species from which it is obtained. Exploitation of elephants by organized gangs of poachers, shooting them with automatic weapons and chopping off their tusks with axes and chainsaws and then selling them have called for the imposition of many restrictions and bans. Between 2008 and 2013, the estimated death toll ranged between 30,000 and 50,000 elephants per year.
Surprisingly, the country Ivory Coast (a country in west Africa, located next to Liberia and Ghana) does not live up to its name. In the early 19th century, it was called Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast in English) by the French colonials, the area was one of the chief export areas for the ivory trade to Europe and became known as the Ivory Coast. At present, only two or three hundred elephants live in isolated herds in the country and elephant hunting does not have a noticeable impact on GDP. Tourists buy ivory items carved by Ivoirian artisans, who have a reputation for being among the best at their trade. No one knows exactly where the artisans are getting their ivory.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) secured an agreement in 1989 among its member states to ban the international trade in ivory. Before the ban, the United States imported a great deal of worked ivory in the world, after Japan and the European market. The United States accounted for 12 percent of all international ivory trade. Following the implementation of the ban, the ivory market collapsed significantly. Ivory and tiger products still continue to pour into China and Taiwan despite of The U.S threatening and imposing sanctions on these countries. Almost 70 per cent of illegal ivory makes its way to China where a pound of it can fetch as much as $1,000. The shocking statistics also reveal that the tusks of a single adult elephant can be worth more than 10 times the average annual income in many African countries.
Britain's Prince William urged an end to the ivory trade, visiting a Chinese elephant sanctuary in the southwestern province of Yunnan during a three-day trip that focused partly on wildlife conservation. China announced last month (February 2015) a one-year ban on the import of African ivory carvings and ivory imports amid criticism that its citizens’ huge appetite for ivory has fuelled a surge in poaching in Africa.
Recently (March 3, 2015), Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to a 10 feet high pile of 15 tons of elephant tusks doused with petrol on World Wildlife Day during an anti-poaching ceremony at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya. The ivory, with a black market value of $30 million, is the largest consignment to be destroyed in Kenya. Many of these tusks belonged to the elephants slaughtered by poachers and smugglers.
The poaching of elephants for ivory and its trade is decreasing due to the efforts made by wildlife activists and committees working towards the preservation of the endangered species. More stringent laws and prohibitions would help the conservation and protection of the animals and equally important is the role of each one of us who should promptly report any violation or notice trade in these banned products.