Ivory: The Ugly Truth
The PEAK Hong Kong|March 2017

The fate of African elephants is looking up as Chinese and Hong Kong governments step in with new measures to ban the sale of ivory.

Peter Knights

Hidden behind the superficial beauty and craftsmanship of many ivory products lies the ugly truth of their frequently brutal origins and sad history. This creamy material with its wood-like grain is a medium for detailed carving and has long been coveted with disastrous implications for the world’s largest land animal. In Roman times the desire for ivory wiped out North African elephant populations. Colonial times cut large swathes through West African populations from several countries, such as the Ivory Coast, as ivory was the “Victorian plastic” providing piano keys, billiard balls, brush handles, and combs on an industrial scale to Britain and then the United States. In the 1970s and 80s, international demand, especially from a newly enriched Japan for hankos (stamps), decimated many central and east African populations. Most recently a market driven largely by demand in mainland China led to a 60 per cent decline in forest elephants in just 10 years, with poaching rising to roughly 33,000 elephants a year. That’s one elephant killed every 15 minutes to meet ivory demand.

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