Vii issue 1 2009 Journal for Critical Animal Studies

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The Ivory Trade

Westerners should not behave haughtily regarding these abuses heaped upon elephants by people on the other side of the world or people in the past. Contemporary times are no better for the elephants. It is true war elephants are a thing of the past and awareness is spreading, but elephants are still valued not for their intrinsic value but for their economic potential. And a staggering majority of Americans are partially to blame for this. The ivory trade is destroying the elephant and the United States is one of the largest consumers of ivory products. Sites such as EBAY are rife with “cultural” items carefully listed under the euphemism of “African bone carving” which are actually ivory. These items remain in high demand regardless of the manner of death inflicted on elephants.
A certain percentage of elephants have always been born without tusks, but recently a vast increase in the amount of tuskless elephants has been noted. Tusks evolved to protect them from other elephants and possible predators. Currently, an evolution appears to be underway and tusks are not developing for protection. Scully says, “Now, as if evolution itself were trying to spare these creatures from human avarice, that [tuskless] gene is spreading because the tuskless ones are often the only ones left to breed” (Scully,pg.123). Douglas-Hamilton has some keen insight on ivory harvesting. A longtime advocate of elephants, he says it has often been suggested to him that the elephant is not being overexploited by the ivory and hunting trades and that his efforts may be excessive. He claims this kind of statement results from not knowing the facts. He says, “There is no doubt whatsoever…the elephant is being exploited faster than it can reproduce…and the ivory trade is the cause” (Douglas-Hamilton 30). As for people who fear attacking the cultures of those in Africa who are indigenous ivory hunters, he says Africa has become little more than a dumping ground for weapons which are actively traded for ivory and this is how “crooks” are financially exploiting elephants. Indeed he says, “the only hope for the elephants [is] a moratorium on the international trade in ivory. Only if people stopped buying, wearing, or selling the stuff would the herds have a chance to recover” (Douglas-Hamilton 30-31).

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