Elephant in the room: Ivory

As elephants and rhinos near extinction, their ivory has only become more valuable—there is even evidence that criminal gangs are now hastily slaughtering the remaining animals and stockpiling their horns and tusks, for the day when there is literally no more supply to meet demand.  

But this is just the pathetic end of a very long story. There were once elephants in North Africa, but ivory hunters wiped out that population completely perhaps a thousand years ago. Ditto for much of South Africa in the 19th century, and most of West Africa in the 20th century. We are now largely down to East Africa, where shrinking habitat and the killing of large bulls means the days of elephants bearing tusks as large as this one are almost certainly over. — Tim Gihring, editor, January 17, 2017


Image: A 1690 drawing of Europeans bartering for elephant tusks in what is now Ghana, then a German colony.

Timed to coincide with the recent announcement by China to halt its commercial trade of ivory, “Elephant in the Room: Ivory” is a series highlighting the historical use of ivory across cultures represented in Mia’s collection. As China is the largest market for ivory, taken from tens of thousands of endangered elephants and rhinos killed by poachers every year, the ban could help save the animals from extinction.