In 1989 the world voted a global ban on the ivory trade. Since then, tens of millions of dollars in illegal ivory has been smuggled and hundreds of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered. No single ivory trafficking kingpin has ever been identified and sent to prison. Instead, the international community has blamed the illegal ivory trade entirely on China with little or no analysis. They have ignored another major driver of the ivory trade: that driver is RELIGION. The most common use of high-end ivory globally is the carving of religious icons. Across all religions, the faithful attempt to manifest their devotion through these carvings. This essay covers the slaughter in Africa, the problems of weak law-enforcement, the smuggling trade, the factories and religious nature of ivory in China, Thailand’s Buddhist monks and their complicity, the Catholic fervor of the Philippines and the lust of devout private collectors for ivory carvings of a religious nature. Around the world, Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims and others buy and trade ivory religious icons. Devotion trumps slaughter as Ivory icons are gifted between heads of state, including Popes and Presidents. This is a centuries-old trade that continues unabated today. Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, Taoist leaders and Hindu believers bless ivory carvings. These blessings add exponentially to the value of these ivory carvings. High-end pieces can sell for up to $500 000. In China, religious motifs are among the most popular expressions of ivory carving. Consumers buy for the dual purpose of investment and the promise of something more divine, good fortune. With less than 400 000 elephants left in the world and an estimated 25,000 killed every year, it is no longer enough to vilify without understanding. Ivory is seen by the religious sector as a divine material as well as a good investment. None of this bodes well for the future of elephants.
AMBOSELI, KENYA, 29 MAY 2011: An undercover Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) Ranger works with local villagers to detusk an elephant killed by poachers in the Amboseli ecosystem, Kenya. The elephant was killed by a single spear stroke by poachers who attacked the previous night. The elephant ran but the spear penetrated deeply enough to cause massive internal bleeding and eventual death. This under-cover ranger reached the animal at first light and to deter the poachers, the animal was detusked and the ivory sent to the KWS HQ in Amboseli National Park. KWS has the mandate to protect wildlife in Kenya but lack the manpower and resources. More than 25 000 elephants died for their ivory in 2011, with increasing numbers estimated for 2012.