Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ivory

Strictly for elephants:


The slogan "Only Elephants Should Wear Ivory" was the climax in calling for a total ban in the trade of ivory and other elephant products by the elephant loving masses to the delegations at CITES [Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species] in 1989.
Ivory is a hard white opaque substance which is the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals such as elephants, hippopotamus, walrus, mammoth, narwhal, wart hog, sperm whale and the killer whale.
Elk ivory is from the bulging teeth of the elk and hornbill ivory is from the upper mandible of the Ivory Hornbill. Ivory therefore is not confined to the elephant. However when comparing the amount of ivory that an animal carries with it; the African elephant [Loxodonta Africana] is in the fore front with over 70 lbs of ivory in both tusks measuring over 6 feet in an adult animal.
In the case of the Asian elephant [Elephas maximus] only some males have tusks and in females it is a rare occurrence.
Ivory is described as a modification of the dentine. A transverse section of ivory under the microscope shows minute striations arranged in arcs forming lozenge shaped spaces with exceedingly small tubes placed together radiating outwards. It is this structure that gives ivory its fine grain and almost perfect elasticity and its peculiar marking that gives it an engine turned effect.
Ivory has been associated with the royalty, religion and in the upper classes through out history. Paleolithic Cro-Magnon man is said to be the first to have used ivory from mammoth tusks for carving during the latter stage of the ice age.
The Greek and the Roman civilizations used ivory in large quantities to make high valued works of art and precious religious objects. Ivory was often used to form the white of the eyes of statues. The demand of it for the development of these two civilizations reduced the elephant populations of Syria and North Africa to extinction in the Classical world.
However with the fall of the Roman Empire the demand and the authority of ivory fades off but the carvings of ornamental figurines to royalty and for religious purposes carried on with the ivory that was collected from the dead animals in the African continent and traded by the Arabs.
In the 15th century much of the African continent is colonized by the Europeans. The trade in ivory is re-established in Europe and it reaches the USA in the latter part of the 18th century.

Piano keys

In the western world ivory was used in a more commercialized way to that of the artistic nature of its use in the eastern world. Much of the ivory in the west was used for the white keys of the pianos and other key operated musical instruments.
The moisture absorbent property of ivory favored its use in piano keys and bag pipes. A wide range of other ornamental items such as combs and jewelry were also turned out of ivory. Apart from these, ivory was also used in sport; billiard balls and billiard cues were made of ivory.
In the east it was to be of a different usage altogether. In India it was used very much in the carvings of the Hindu gods and goddesses in shrines and as worshiping idols in the homes of the rich. Handles of muskets and daggers with intricate carvings from ivory was used by the royalty and the upper-class.
Moving further east in Hong Kong it was to be powdered and mixed with other herbs and substances as an aphrodisiac. However in the Far East the carvings were of very good quality and finished smooth and glossy.
These carvings unlike the Indian religious idols were mainly collector's items depicting erotic postures and acts of human figurines. They were of varying sizes to suit the purse. In Honk Kong the most sort after carving was to be the ball within the ball carved with floral designs using purpose made tools. Hong Kong now acts as the hub of world's legal and illegal ivory trade.
Even though Hong Kong gave carved statuette, Japan was to create the best finished ivory products. Ivory in Japan is more a social requirement and hence a threat to the surviving elephant population.
Further to the figurines, the Japanese carved total townships and villages in the minutest compositions with perfect detailing in excellent quality. This was utilizing its structural properties, to the ultimate. As for the social aspects of ivory in Japan, it was the "Netsuke" that came to be in the 17th century and now the "Hanko" which is an individualized signature seal or the more commonly known chop.
The traditional Japanese garments were the robes called "Kosode" and the Kimono. One common feature in these dresses was that they had no pockets, and the men who wore them needed a place to keep their personal belongings such as tobacco, money, medicines etc.
The solution to this was a container called the "Sagemono" hung by cords from the sash that was worn around the waist which kept the robe in tact. However the silky material of the sash would not hold the cords in tact and the Sagemono fell off.
The problem of the falling container was overcome by a fastener that secured its cords at the top of the sash with a carved button like toggle called the "Netsuke". This art of Netsuke carving was to be of great artistic merit depicting Japanese folk lore and life.
Even though the Kosode and the Kimono are dresses of the by gone era, the traditional Netsuke is carved even to date as collecters items. The most sort after material for the Netsuke happens to be ivory.

The Hanko seal

The Japanese as a tradition do not place signatures on documents and transactions. They use a stamping seal or a chop known as a Hanko instead. The personal Hanko seal is the mitome-in and the other being the registered Hanko named jitsu-in.
A registered Hanko is required to open a bank account or to buy land or a car in Japan. It is sad that the most sought after material for the Hanko is ivory for its unique carving ability to engrave the tricky Japanese fonts and its controlled ink absorbing character. The highest demand for ivory in the modern world is for the Japanese Hanko industry.
In the year 1963 the members of the World Conservation Union now known as the IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] adopted a resolution at a meeting of its members to draft an international agreement between governments to bring control to the trade in specimens of wild animals and plants preventing their extinction from the world. This convention was to be CITES which came in to effect after 10 years in 1973.

Over-exploitation

CITES is now protecting about 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants against over-exploitation through international trade. The Kruger National park in South Africa who were discussing the culling of elephants as early as 1940, actually adopted it from the year 1965.
This however was to have been done in the cruelest manner. They used the lethal tranquilising drug succinylcholine chloride better known as Scoline. Elephants were herded together by helicopter and then the drug darted on them from above.
The drugs literally brought the elephants to its knees, leaving them to suffocate to death while remaining fully conscious and unable to move; the process that took several minutes. If death did not come quickly they were shot in the head.
The dead did not lie for long, the calves were separated from their mothers and aunts and the butchery was begun with the tusks extracted from their faces and the meat after the hides removed were dried for food not wasting anything.
The justification of the park officials is that the funds are needed for the management of the elephant and it was obtained thus. However the culling of elephants brought in much protest from the elephant lovers as well as scientist for the elephant being a very social animal and destroying it in such a brutal manner witnessed by the surviving calves and the young would build a trauma effecting their instincts and habits.
The increase in the numbers of elephants in these so called well managed parks have brought in much doubt if it is the good management practices that increases the numbers or is it the animals that infiltrate into the protected areas from other troubled areas as African states do not have protected boundaries.
Also illegal ivory from neighboring countries was smuggled into South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to make them legal accounting to the culling practices. Due to the large protest campaigns from the world community and scientists world over, South Africa abandoned culling in the year 1995.
Instead these countries introduce trophy hunting to prospective clients in the developed world, mainly from the USA. As a result of this the large tracts of farmlands adjoining the parks opened up their boundaries and fencing for the elephant to roam in to these territories. The farmhouses were rented as hunting lodges for this was more lucrative than farming.
It is interesting to note that India having over 7000 ivory carvers is a strong supporter with Kenya in getting the elephant back into the Appendix I. Their carvers use much of the world's mammoth ivory. India is holding 900 million people which amount to one sixth of the world population on 2.2 percent of the earths land surface.
It is more humans than whole of Africa which is around 700 million on 20.2 percent of the planets land surface. India also holds the largest Asian elephant [/Elephas maximus/] population. It is discouraging and hopeful. The Asian Elephant totals just 35,000 to 55,000 in the wild and 16,000 in captivity. This co-existence of the elephant and humans in India could be the influence of the Hindu god Ganapathi.
It has been noted that in the year 1979 it took 54 African elephants to produce a ton of ivory. Now with the mature tusks all but nonexistent and females being the prime target it took 113 African elephants to produce a ton of ivory in 1992. This was allowing 55 orphaned calves and young juveniles to die later.
CITES can be proud and content to say that no species have been reduced to extinction through trade. But it is quite clear that the number of elephants needed to produce a ton of ivory now is over 113 elephants.
It is for this very reason that only elephants should wear ivory.

Published in the Sunday Observer Impact 2007 - 5 - 6

http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2007/05/06/imp03.asp

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