For thousands of years, people have valued elephant tusks, both outright as a signs of status and wealth, and even more commonly in the form of carved statuettes, jewelry and ornaments.  Admittedly, ivory is a truly beautiful substance, and in the hands of a skilled artist it can be turned into genuinely lovely works of art.

photo M. Noonan

However, this is a terrible situation from the elephant’s point of view.  As long as the art world is populated by collectors who are willing to pay handsome prices for objects made of ivory, there will be people willing to shoot elephants to obtain their tusks.  In fact, the deliberate killing by people for this purpose has probably been the number one cause of death in this species.  In the past 100 years, it is estimated that more than 100,000 Asian Elephants have been killed solely for their ivory. 

Deplorably, the importation and sale of ivory is still common in many Asian and European nations today.  And even in countries that strictly ban it (like the US and UK), a black market exists where carved ivory is available for those who simply cannot resist its beauty. 

photo M. Noonan

If we want to conserve elephants, we simply have to eliminate the ivory trade.  As long as there is a demand for ivory, there will be poachers and black marketers who will feed that demand.  However, if we could convince customers to stop buying ivory, then poachers would stop killing elephants to obtain their ivory.  We feel certain that if people everywhere came to understand that ivory products come from dead elephants, and that the purchase of ivory products causes the killing of elephants, then the deaths would stop. 

This is something that should change, and this is something that can change. 

Those of us who care about the conservation of elephants should work to influence cultural attitudes about the ivory trade.  We should do this politely and we should do this patiently.  But we should never give up.

Ivory is not something that should be desired as a thing of beauty.  Carved ivory should not be valued or displayed as works of art.  Nearly all ivory products are derived from elephants that were specifically killed so that their tusks could be carved.  We should not see it as a thing of beauty. 

It is not art. 

It is the carved body part of a killed elephant. 


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