They are the largest of all living mammals and among the most powerful. Doting mothers and loner fathers, they rely upon a single part of the body to drink, dust, dig, signal, gather food and breathe – and, depending upon the availability of food, they tend to congregate as family units or in large groups. In instances where they happen upon the dead bodies of other elephants, they pause briefly and then gently touch the mammal’s remains with those very same trunks.
It is the elephants’ tusks, however, that researchers use to identify them as individuals. These ivory horns jutting out from each side of the animal’s trunk extend well beneath the surface and never stop growing. Elephants tend to favor either the left or right during battles with predators and when foraging, stripping bark and moving things. Tusks, along with human development of their African and Asian habitats, have also caused elephant populations to dwindle. Between 1930 and 1989, in fact, some 5 to 10 million African elephants alone declined to around 600,000, giving this massive species the distinction of being threatened where its Asian counterparts had already made the endangered list. The international sale of ivory was banned. Two New York merchants nevertheless reportedly admitted as late as this week that they had sold and offered some $2 million in ivory bangles, beads, animal carvings and carved tusks without a permit to prove that it was obtained before the animals were protected. Mukesh Gupta, Johnson Jung-Chien Lu and their companies pleaded guilty to illegal commercialization of wildlife, forfeited the ivory products and paid $55,000 for Wildlife Conservation Society efforts to help elephants, reports from ABC News and Wired News suggest.Elephants aren’t the only living creatures affected by poaching. Turtles, coveted for their decorative shells, are at risk (all seven species of sea turtles are endangered, as are gopher tortoises in most states). Living corals taken from reefs that protect shorelines and at one time or another provide a home to more than 70 percent of the world’s marine life also have been taken for jewelry purposes. Likewise, ivory isn’t only taken from the tusks of elephants. It’s been taken also from sperm whales, walruses, hippos and other animals.Because the ivory ban didn’t go into effect until 1989, pre-ban ivory can still be found in contemporary jewelry. Estate collections might offer an even more appealing option, since the likes of coral and ivory were said to be especially popular during times such as the Victorian era. Last year, Collectors Weekly reported on the television show, “Antiques Roadshow’s” whopping $1 to $1.5 million appraisal of five 17th- or 18th-century Chinese cups made out of rhinoceros horn.A TRAFFIC North America report shows that commercial ivory was seized from dealers regularly even around 2004 – and, according to a New York Times editorial, the worst year for elephant poaching since the 1989 ban was last year, when 24 tons of ivory were seized largely en route from Kenya and Tanzania in Africa to China and Thailand in Asia.The Times editorial cited problems with poverty and weak law enforcement within these two continents as well as market demand. “Cracking down hard on the source of supply and the illegal market is the right thing to do,” the writer noted. “But the long-term solution lies in improving the economic lives of the humans who live among elephants.”Related articles Illegal Ivory Leads 2 to Plead Guilty in New YorkOne Ton Of Illegal Ivory Seized From Jewelers