The Ivory Trade and the Slaughter of Elephants

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The Ivory Trade and the Slaughter of Elephants

It is hard to equate an austere piano recital with the murder of hundreds of thousands of wild animals. For that matter, it is equally as difficult to relate that horrific scene with my grandmother’s antique hairpins, but the fact of the matter is that the creamy ivory that is so cherished as a sign of wealth, culture, and tradition is really the result of the work of poachers. How can those delicate hairpins be the topic of international debate and black market trade? The answer is rooted in the history of one of the world’s oldest markets: the ivory trade.

Ivory is a form of dentin, the same material that is in human teeth. Since the time of the sixth dynasty of ancient Egypt, ivory has been a hotly sought material for jewelry, book covers, brooches, and figurines (Nave 1). The craft workers of Benin especially made ivory a desirable and versatile in the markets of ancient Egypt, Crete, Greece, Italy, China, and Japan. Most of these ancient civilizations acquired their ivory from the present day region of Sudan (Nave 1). After the sixth dynasty of the Egyptians (2420-2258 B.C) , the Romans, Chinese, and Indian people took up the trade and markets of ivory that had become remarkably lucrative. The famous Swahili trader Tippu Tip went as far as to set up an extensive trading empire that spanned Zanzibar up to the Lualaba River in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (Nave 1). In a matter of a few generations, ivory had become a center of ancient economies. The demand for ivory, however, soon took its toll on the African and Asian ecosystems.

By the late nineteenth century, the United States and the United Kingdom were importing over 1.5 million tons of ivory a yea...

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... within the cultures of both African and Western societies.

Sources

Kioko, J.M. Kenya’s Position on Re-opening the Ivory Trade. 22 May 2000.

<www.kws.org/ivorytrade.htm> .

-This web site is dedicated to the results of the CITES ivory ban. It is critical of the current situation and gives the progress in real numbers.

Kreuter, Urs P. Why the Ivory Ban is Failing. 20 March 1996. <www.perc.org/publications/opeds/ivorytrade.html> .

-This web site has information about the 1989 CITES ivory ban. It also relates to the reader the events that led up to the ban.

Nave, Ari. Ivory Trade. 16 August 2001. <http://www.africana.com/utilities/content.html?&../cgi- bin/banner.pl?banner=&../Articles/tt_583.htm > .

-This is a brief but comprehensive history of the ivory trade and its origins. Its main usefulness is in the ancient history of the ivory trade.

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