Ivory

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11th-century Italian carved elephant tusk, Louvre Horn Louvre OA4069.jpg
11th-century Italian carved elephant tusk, Louvre
Cylindrical ivory casket, Siculo-Arabic, Hunt Museum Cylindrical Ivory Casket.jpg
Cylindrical ivory casket, Siculo-Arabic, Hunt Museum

Ivory is a hard, white material from the tusks (traditionally from elephants) and teeth of animals, that consists mainly of dentine, one of the physical structures of teeth and tusks. The chemical structure of the teeth and tusks of mammals is the same, regardless of the species of origin. The trade in certain teeth and tusks other than elephant is well established and widespread; therefore, "ivory" can correctly be used to describe any mammalian teeth or tusks of commercial interest which are large enough to be carved or scrimshawed. [1]

Contents

Besides natural ivory, ivory can also be produced synthetically, [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] hence (unlike natural ivory) not requiring the retrieval of the material from animals. Tagua nuts can also be carved like ivory. [7]

Ivory has been valued since ancient times in art or manufacturing for making a range of items from ivory carvings to false teeth, piano keys, fans, and dominoes. [8] Elephant ivory is the most important source, but ivory from mammoth, walrus, hippopotamus, sperm whale, killer whale, narwhal and warthog are used as well. [9] [10] Elk also have two ivory teeth, which are believed to be the remnants of tusks from their ancestors. [11]

The national and international trade in natural ivory of threatened species such as African and Asian elephants is illegal. [12] The word ivory ultimately derives from the ancient Egyptian âb, âbu ("elephant"), through the Latin ebor- or ebur. [13]

Uses

A depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus crafted in elephant ivory Vierge a l'Enfant debout.jpg
A depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus crafted in elephant ivory
An ivory tabernacle featuring the Madonna of Caress, France Ivory tabernacle Louvre OA2587.jpg
An ivory tabernacle featuring the Madonna of Caress, France

Both the Greek and Roman civilizations practiced ivory carving to make large quantities of high value works of art, precious religious objects, and decorative boxes for costly objects. Ivory was often used to form the white of the eyes of statues.

There is some evidence of either whale or walrus ivory used by the ancient Irish. Solinus, a Roman writer in the 3rd century claimed that the Celtic peoples in Ireland would decorate their sword-hilts with the 'teeth of beasts that swim in the sea'. Adomnan of Iona wrote a story about St Columba giving a sword decorated with carved ivory as a gift that a penitent would bring to his master so he could redeem himself from slavery. [14]

The Syrian and North African elephant populations were reduced to extinction, probably due to the demand for ivory in the Classical world. [15]

The Chinese have long valued ivory for both art and utilitarian objects. Early reference to the Chinese export of ivory is recorded after the Chinese explorer Zhang Qian ventured to the west to form alliances to enable the eventual free movement of Chinese goods to the west; as early as the first century BC, ivory was moved along the Northern Silk Road for consumption by western nations. [16] Southeast Asian kingdoms included tusks of the Indian elephant in their annual tribute caravans to China. Chinese craftsmen carved ivory to make everything from images of deities to the pipe stems and end pieces of opium pipes. [17]

In Japan, ivory carvings became popular in the 17th century during the Edo period, and many netsuke and kiseru , on which animals and legendary creatures were carved, and inro , on which ivory was inlaid, were made. From the mid-1800s, the new Meiji government's policy of promoting and exporting arts and crafts led to the frequent display of elaborate ivory crafts at World's fair. Among them, the best works were admired because they were purchased by Western museums, wealthy people, and the Japanese Imperial family. [18]

The Buddhist cultures of Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, traditionally harvested ivory from their domesticated elephants. Ivory was prized for containers due to its ability to keep an airtight seal. It was also commonly carved into elaborate seals utilized by officials to "sign" documents and decrees by stamping them with their unique official seal. [19]

In Southeast Asian countries, where Muslim Malay peoples live, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, ivory was the material of choice for making the handles of kris daggers. In the Philippines, ivory was also used to craft the faces and hands of Catholic icons and images of saints prevalent in the Santero culture.

Tooth and tusk ivory can be carved into a vast variety of shapes and objects. Examples of modern carved ivory objects are okimono, netsukes, jewelry, flatware handles, furniture inlays, and piano keys. Additionally, warthog tusks, and teeth from sperm whales, orcas and hippos can also be scrimshawed or superficially carved, thus retaining their morphologically recognizable shapes.

Ivory usage in the last thirty years has moved towards mass production of souvenirs and jewelry. In Japan, the increase in wealth sparked consumption of solid ivory hanko – name seals – which before this time had been made of wood. These hanko can be carved out in a matter of seconds using machinery and were partly responsible for massive African elephant decline in the 1980s, when the African elephant population went from 1.3 million to around 600,000 in ten years. [20] [21]

Consumption before plastics

An elaborately carved ivory tusk in Sa'dabad Palace, Iran Decorated ivory.JPG
An elaborately carved ivory tusk in Sa'dabad Palace, Iran

Before plastics were introduced, ivory had many ornamental and practical uses, mainly because of the white color it presents when processed. It was formerly used to make cutlery handles, billiard balls, piano keys, Scottish bagpipes, buttons and a wide range of ornamental items.

Synthetic substitutes for ivory in the use of most of these items have been developed since 1800: the billiard industry challenged inventors to come up with an alternative material that could be manufactured; [22] :17 the piano industry abandoned ivory as a key covering material in the 1970s.

Ivory can be taken from dead animals – however, most ivory came from elephants that were killed for their tusks. For example, in 1930 to acquire 40 tons of ivory required the killing of approximately 700 elephants. [23] Other animals which are now endangered were also preyed upon, for example, hippos, which have very hard white ivory prized for making artificial teeth. [24] In the first half of the 20th century, Kenyan elephant herds were devastated because of demand for ivory, to be used for piano keys. [25]

During the Art Deco era from 1912 to 1940, dozens (if not hundreds) of European artists used ivory in the production of chryselephantine statues. Two of the most frequent users of ivory in their sculptured artworks were Ferdinand Preiss and Claire Colinet. [26]

Availability

Men with elephant tusks, Dar es Salaam, c. 1900 Ivory trade.jpg
Men with elephant tusks, Dar es Salaam, c.1900

Owing to the rapid decline in the populations of the animals that produce it, the importation and sale of ivory in many countries is banned or severely restricted. In the ten years preceding a decision in 1989 by CITES to ban international trade in African elephant ivory, the population of African elephants declined from 1.3 million to around 600,000. It was found by investigators from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that CITES sales of stockpiles from Singapore and Burundi (270 tonnes and 89.5 tonnes respectively) had created a system that increased the value of ivory on the international market, thus rewarding international smugglers and giving them the ability to control the trade and continue smuggling new ivory. [20] [21]

Since the ivory ban, some Southern African countries have claimed their elephant populations are stable or increasing, and argued that ivory sales would support their conservation efforts. Other African countries oppose this position, stating that renewed ivory trading puts their own elephant populations under greater threat from poachers reacting to demand. CITES allowed the sale of 49 tonnes of ivory from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana in 1997 to Japan. [27] [28]

In 2007, under pressure from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, eBay banned all international sales of elephant-ivory products. The decision came after several mass slaughters of African elephants, most notably the 2006 Zakouma elephant slaughter in Chad. The IFAW found that up to 90% of the elephant-ivory transactions on eBay violated their own wildlife policies and could potentially be illegal. In October 2008, eBay expanded the ban, disallowing any sales of ivory on eBay.[ citation needed ]

A more recent sale in 2008 of 108 tonnes from the three countries and South Africa took place to Japan and China. [29] [30] The inclusion of China as an "approved" importing country created enormous controversy, despite being supported by CITES, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Traffic. [31] They argued that China had controls in place and the sale might depress prices. However, the price of ivory in China has skyrocketed. [32] Some believe this may be due to deliberate price fixing by those who bought the stockpile, echoing the warnings from the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society on price-fixing after sales to Japan in 1997, [33] and monopoly given to traders who bought stockpiles from Burundi and Singapore in the 1980s.

A 2019 peer-reviewed study reported that the rate of African elephant poaching was in decline, with the annual poaching mortality rate peaking at over 10% in 2011 and falling to below 4% by 2017. [34] The study found that the "annual poaching rates in 53 sites strongly correlate with proxies of ivory demand in the main Chinese markets, whereas between-country and between-site variation is strongly associated with indicators of corruption and poverty." [34] Based on these findings, the study authors recommended action to both reduce demand for ivory in China and other main markets and to decrease corruption and poverty in Africa. [34]

In 2006, nineteen African countries signed the "Accra Declaration" calling for a total ivory trade ban, and twenty range states attended a meeting in Kenya calling for a 20-year moratorium in 2007. [35]

Methods of obtaining ivory can be divided into:

Controversy and conservation issues

The use and trade of elephant ivory have become controversial because they have contributed to seriously declining elephant populations in many countries. It is estimated that consumption in Great Britain alone in 1831 amounted to the deaths of nearly 4,000 elephants. In 1975, the Asian elephant was placed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prevents international trade between member states of species that are threatened by trade. The African elephant was placed on Appendix I in January 1990. Since then, some southern African countries have had their populations of elephants "downlisted" to Appendix II, allowing the domestic trade of non-ivory items; there have also been two "one off" sales of ivory stockpiles. [20] [36] [37] [38] [39]

In June 2015, more than a ton of confiscated ivory was crushed in New York City's Times Square by the Wildlife Conservation Society to send a message that the illegal trade will not be tolerated. The ivory, confiscated in New York and Philadelphia, was sent up a conveyor belt into a rock crusher. The Wildlife Conservation Society has pointed out that the global ivory trade leads to the slaughter of up to 35,000 elephants a year in Africa. In June 2018, Conservative MEPs’ Deputy Leader Jacqueline Foster MEP urged the EU to follow the UK's lead and introduce a tougher ivory ban across Europe. [40]

China was the biggest market for poached ivory but announced they would phase out the legal domestic manufacture and sale of ivory products in May 2015. In September of the same year, China and the U.S. announced they would "enact a nearly complete ban on the import and export of ivory." [41] The Chinese market has a high degree of influence on the elephant population. [42] [43]

Alternatives

Fossil mammoth tusks

Trade in the ivory from the tusks of dead woolly mammoths frozen in the tundra has occurred for 300 years and continues to be legal. Mammoth ivory is used today to make handcrafted knives and similar implements. Mammoth ivory is rare and costly because mammoths have been extinct for millennia, and scientists are hesitant to sell museum-worthy specimens in pieces. [44] Some estimates suggest that 10 million mammoths are still buried in Siberia. [45]

Fossil walrus ivory

Fossil walrus ivory from animals that died before 1972 is legal to buy and sell or possess in the United States, unlike many other types of ivory. [46]

Synthetic ivory

Ivory can also be produced synthetically. [47] [48] [49] [50] [51]

Nuts

A species of hard nut is gaining popularity as a replacement for ivory, although its size limits its usability. It is sometimes called vegetable ivory, or tagua, and is the seed endosperm of the ivory nut palm commonly found in coastal rainforests of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. [52]

See also

Related Research Articles

Poaching Illegal hunting of wildlife

Poaching has been defined as the illegal hunting or capturing of wild animals, usually associated with land use rights. Poaching was once performed by impoverished peasants for subsistence purposes and a supplement for meager diets. It was set against the hunting privileges of nobility and territorial rulers.

Walrus ivory

Walrus tusk ivory comes from two modified upper canines. It is also known as morse. The tusk grows throughout the life. The tusks of a Pacific walrus may attain a length of one meter. Walrus teeth are also commercially carved and traded. The average walrus tooth has a rounded, irregular peg shape and is approximately 5 cm in length.

Tusk

Tusks are elongated, continuously growing front teeth that protrude well beyond the mouth of certain mammal species. They are most commonly canine teeth, as with pigs, hippos, and walruses, or, in the case of elephants, elongated incisors. Tusks share common features such as extra-oral position, growth pattern, composition and structure, and lack of contribution to ingestion. Tusks are thought to have adapted to the extra-oral environments, like dry or aquatic or arctic. In most tusked species both the males and the females have tusks although the males' are larger. Most mammals with tusks have a pair of them growing out from either side of the mouth. Tusks are generally curved and have a smooth, continuous surface. The narwhal's straight single helical tusk, which usually grows out from the left of the mouth and is present only in the male, is an exception to the typical features of tusks described above. Continuous growth of tusks is enabled by formative tissues in the apical openings of the roots of the teeth. Prior to over hunting and proliferation of the ivory trade, elephant tusks weighing over 90 kg (200 lb) were not uncommon, though it is rare today to see any over 45 kg (100 lb).

<i>Netsuke</i>

A netsuke is a miniature sculpture, originating in 17th century Japan. Initially a simply-carved button fastener on the cords of an inro box, netsuke later developed into ornately sculpted objects of craftsmanship.

African forest elephant African elephant species

The African forest elephant is one of the two living African elephant species. It is native to humid forests in West Africa and the Congo Basin. It is the smallest of the three living elephant species, reaching a shoulder height of 2.4 m. Both sexes have straight, down-pointing tusks, which erupt when they are 1–3 years old. It lives in family groups of up to 20 individuals. Since it forages on leaves, seeds, fruit, and tree bark, it has been referred to as the 'megagardener of the forest'. It contributes significantly to maintain the composition and structure of the Guinean Forests of West Africa and the Congolese rainforests.

Scrimshaw Engravings and carvings done in bone or ivory, created by sailors

Scrimshaw is scrollwork, engravings, and carvings done in bone or ivory. Typically it refers to the artwork created by whalers, engraved on the byproducts of whales, such as bones or cartilage. It is most commonly made out of the bones and teeth of sperm whales, the baleen of other whales, and the tusks of walruses. It takes the form of elaborate engravings in the form of pictures and lettering on the surface of the bone or tooth, with the engraving highlighted using a pigment, or, less often, small sculptures made from the same material. However, the latter really fall into the categories of ivory carving, for all carved teeth and tusks, or bone carving. The making of scrimshaw probably began on whaling ships in the late 18th century and survived until the ban on commercial whaling. The practice survives as a hobby and as a trade for commercial artisans. A maker of scrimshaw is known as a scrimshander. The word first appeared in print in the early 19th century, but the etymology is uncertain.

African elephant Genus comprising two living elephant species

The African elephant (Loxodonta) is a genus comprising two living elephant species, the African bush elephant and the smaller African forest elephant. Both are social herbivores with grey skin, but differ in the size and color of their tusks and in the shape and size of their ears and skulls.

Ivory carving Carving of animal tooth or tusk

Ivory carving is the carving of ivory, that is to say animal tooth or tusk, generally by using sharp cutting tools, either mechanically or manually.

The 2006 Zakouma elephant slaughter refers to a series of poaching massacres of African elephants in the vicinity of Zakouma National Park in southeastern Chad. These killings were documented in aerial surveys conducted from May through August 2006 and total at least 100 animals. This region has a four decade history of illegal killing of this species; in fact, the Chad population was over 300,000 animals as recently as 1970 and has been reduced to approximately 10,000 as of 2006. The African elephant nominally has Chadian governmental protection, but the implementation practices of the government have been insufficient to stem the slaughter by poachers. The African Bush Elephant species occurs in several countries of Eastern and Central Africa.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton is a zoologist known for his study of elephants. He earned both a BSc in biology and a D.Phil. in zoology from Oriel College, Oxford, and he is the recipient of the 2010 Indianapolis Prize for his work on elephant conservation. His chief research interest is to understand elephant choices by studying their movements. In 1993, he founded the organisation Save the Elephants. He is a frequent keynote speaker at the annual Wildlife Conservation Network expo.

Wildlife smuggling

Wildlife smuggling or trafficking involves the illegal gathering, transportation, and distribution of animals and their derivatives. This can be done either internationally or domestically. Estimates of the money generated by wildlife smuggling vary, in part because of its illegal nature. "Wildlife smuggling is estimated at $7.8bn to $10bn a year, according to the U.S. State Department. The U.S. State Department also lists wildlife trafficking as the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world." The illegal nature of such activities makes determining the amount of money involved incredibly difficult. When considered with illegal timber and fisheries, wildlife trafficking is a major illegal trade along with narcotics, human trafficking, and counterfeit products.

Esmond Bradley Martin was an American conservationist who fought for both the preservation of elephants against the illegal ivory trade, and for the rhinoceros against the illegal trade of rhinoceros horns. A trained geographer, Martin was considered a world-renowned expert in the ivory trade and rhinoceros horn trade. He had been a special envoy of the United Nations for the conservation of rhinoceros. Militant for a reduction in the demand for ivory to dry up the market, he participated notably in the stop of rhinoceros horn trade to China in 1993 and ivory in 2017.

Ivory trade Commercial, often illegal, trade of animal ivory

The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, African and Asian elephants.

The conservation and restoration of ivory objects is the process of maintaining and preserving objects that are ivory or include ivory material. Conservation and restoration are aimed at preserving the ivory material and physical form along with the objects condition and treatment documentation. Activities dedicated to the preservation of ivory objects include preventing agents of deterioration that specifically connect with ivory as a material, preventative conservation, and treatment of ivory objects. Conservators, curators, collections managers, and other museum personnel are in charge of taking the necessary measurements to ensure that ivory objects are well maintained and will make the decision for any conservation and restoration of the objects. 

Elephant hunting in Kenya

Elephant hunting, which used to be an accepted activity in Kenya, was banned in 1973, as was the ivory trade. Illegal hunting continues, as there is still international demand for elephant tusks. Kenya pioneered the destruction of ivory as a way to combat this black market. Elephant poaching continues to pose a threat to the population.

Satao (elephant)

Satao was one of Kenya's largest African elephants. He was known as a tusker because his tusks were so long that they almost touched the ground. The Tsavo Trust announced that Satao was killed by poachers using a poisoned arrow on 30 May 2014.

World Elephant Day

World Elephant Day is an international annual event on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world's elephants. Conceived in 2011 by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark of Canazwest Pictures, and Sivaporn Dardarananda, Secretary-General of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand, it was officially founded, supported and launched by Patricia Sims and the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation on August 12, 2012. Since that time, Patricia Sims continues to lead, support and direct World Elephant Day, which is now recognized and celebrated by over 100 wildlife organizations and many individuals in countries across the globe.

Destruction of ivory

The destruction of ivory is a technique used by governments and conservation groups to deter the poaching of elephants for their tusks and to suppress the illegal ivory trade. As of 2016, more than 263 tonnes (580,000 lb) of ivory has been destroyed, typically by burning or crushing, in these high-profile events in 21 countries around the world. Kenya held the first event in 1989, as well as the largest event in 2016, when a total of 105 tonnes (231,000 lb) of ivory were incinerated.

Species affected by poaching

Species affected by poaching refers both to the effects of illegal hunting and fishing or capturing of wild animals on certain species, and, in a recent usage, the illegal harvesting of wild plant species. The article provides an overview of species currently endangered or impaired by poaching in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and South-East Asia.

Tom Akeya is an Inuit ivory carver. His work has been sold in multiple places.

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