Ivory
Overview
 
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusk
Tusk
Tusks are elongated, continuously growing front teeth, usually but not always in pairs, that protrude well beyond the mouth of certain mammal species. They are most commonly canines, as with warthogs, wild boar, and walruses, or, in the case of elephants and narwhals, elongated incisors...

s of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carving
Ivory carving
Ivory carving is the carving of ivory, that is to say animal tooth or tusk, by using sharp cutting tools, either mechanically or manually. The ancient craft has now virtually ceased, as since CITES it is illegal under most circumstances throughout the world....

s to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and billiard balls. Elephant ivory has been the most important source, but ivory from many species including the hippopotamus
Hippopotamus
The hippopotamus , or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" , is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal and the heaviest...

, walrus
Walrus
The walrus is a large flippered marine mammal with a discontinuous circumpolar distribution in the Arctic Ocean and sub-Arctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere. The walrus is the only living species in the Odobenidae family and Odobenus genus. It is subdivided into three subspecies: the Atlantic...

, mammoth
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

, sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

, and narwhal
Narwhal
The narwhal, Monodon monoceros, is a medium-sized toothed whale that lives year-round in the Arctic. One of two living species of whale in the Monodontidae family, along with the beluga whale, the narwhal males are distinguished by a characteristic long, straight, helical tusk extending from their...

 has been used.
Encyclopedia
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusk
Tusk
Tusks are elongated, continuously growing front teeth, usually but not always in pairs, that protrude well beyond the mouth of certain mammal species. They are most commonly canines, as with warthogs, wild boar, and walruses, or, in the case of elephants and narwhals, elongated incisors...

s of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carving
Ivory carving
Ivory carving is the carving of ivory, that is to say animal tooth or tusk, by using sharp cutting tools, either mechanically or manually. The ancient craft has now virtually ceased, as since CITES it is illegal under most circumstances throughout the world....

s to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and billiard balls. Elephant ivory has been the most important source, but ivory from many species including the hippopotamus
Hippopotamus
The hippopotamus , or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" , is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal and the heaviest...

, walrus
Walrus
The walrus is a large flippered marine mammal with a discontinuous circumpolar distribution in the Arctic Ocean and sub-Arctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere. The walrus is the only living species in the Odobenidae family and Odobenus genus. It is subdivided into three subspecies: the Atlantic...

, mammoth
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

, sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

, and narwhal
Narwhal
The narwhal, Monodon monoceros, is a medium-sized toothed whale that lives year-round in the Arctic. One of two living species of whale in the Monodontidae family, along with the beluga whale, the narwhal males are distinguished by a characteristic long, straight, helical tusk extending from their...

 has been used. The word ultimately derives from the Ancient Egyptian
Egyptian language
Egyptian is the oldest known indigenous language of Egypt and a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3400 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known. Egyptian was spoken until the late 17th century AD in the...

 âb, âbu "elephant", through the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 ebor- or ebur.

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

 has become controversial because it has contributed to seriously declining populations in many countries. In 1975 the Asian elephant
Asian Elephant
The Asian or Asiatic elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas and distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east. Three subspecies are recognized — Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, the Indian elephant or E. m. indicus from mainland Asia, and E. m....

 was placed on Appendix One of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which prevents international trade between member countries. The African elephant was placed on Appendix One in January 1990. Since then some southern African countries have had their populations of elephants "downlisted" to Appendix Two allowing sale of some stockpiles.

Ivory has availed itself to many ornamental and practical uses. Prior to the introduction of plastics, it was used for billiard ball
Billiard ball
A billiard ball is a small, hard ball used in cue sports, such as carom billiards, pool, and snooker. The number, type, diameter, color, and pattern of the balls differ depending upon the specific game being played...

s, piano
Piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

 keys, Scottish bagpipes
Bagpipes
Bagpipes are a class of musical instrument, aerophones, using enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag. Though the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe and Irish uilleann pipes have the greatest international visibility, bagpipes of many different types come from...

, buttons and a wide range of ornamental items. Synthetic substitutes for ivory have been developed. Plastics have been viewed by piano purists as an inferior ivory substitute on piano keys, although other recently developed materials more closely resemble the feel of real ivory.

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 is large enough to be carved or scrimshaw
Scrimshaw
Scrimshaw is the name given to handiwork created by whalers made from the byproducts of harvesting marine mammals. It is most commonly made out of the bones and teeth of sperm whales, the baleen of other whales, and the tusks of walruses...

ed (Crocodile teeth are also used).

Uses

Both the Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 and Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 civilizations practised 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.

The Syrian and North African flacid elephant populations were reduced to extinction, probably due to the demand for ivory in the Classical world
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

.

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
Zhang Qian
Zhang Qian was an imperial envoy to the world outside of China in the 2nd century BCE, during the time of the Han Dynasty...

 ventured to the west to form alliances to enable for 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
Northern Silk Road
The Northern Silk Road is a prehistoric trackway in northern China originating in the early capital of Xi'an and extending north of the Taklamakan Desert to reach the ancient kingdoms of Parthia, Bactria and eventually Persia and Rome. It is the northern-most branch of several Silk Roads providing...

 for consumption by western nations. 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.
The Indianized Buddhist cultures of Southeast Asia, including Myanmar (Burma), 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. Ivory was also commonly carved into elaborate seals utilized by officials to "sign" documents and decrees by stamping them with their unique official seal.

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 magical kris
Kris
The kris or keris is an asymmetrical dagger or sword nowadays most strongly associated with the culture of Indonesia, but also indigenous to Malaysia, Southern Thailand and Brunei. It is known as kalis in the southern Philippines. The kris is famous for its distinctive wavy blade , but many have...

 daggers. In the Philippines, ivory was also used to craft the faces and hands of Catholic icons and images of saints.

Tooth and tusk ivory can be carved into a vast variety of shapes and objects. A small example of modern carved ivory objects are small statuary such as okimono
Okimono
Okimono is a Japanese term meaning "ornament for display; objet d'art; decorative object", typically displayed in a tokonoma "alcove" or butsudan "Buddhist altar"....

, netsuke
Netsuke
Netsuke are miniature sculptures that were invented in 17th-century Japan to serve a practical function...

s, jewelry, flatware handles, furniture inlays, and piano keys. Additionally, warthog
Warthog
The Warthog or Common Warthog is a wild member of the pig family that lives in grassland, savanna, and woodland in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the past it was commonly treated as a subspecies of P...

 tusks, and teeth from sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

s, orca
Orca
The killer whale , commonly referred to as the orca, and less commonly as the blackfish, is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family. Killer whales are found in all oceans, from the frigid Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas...

s 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 jewellery. In Japan the increase in wealth sparked consumption of solid ivory hankos - name seals - which before this time had been made of wood. These hankos 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.

Consumption before plastics

Before plastics were invented, ivory was important for cutlery handles, musical instruments, billiard balls, and many other items. It is estimated that consumption in Great Britain alone in 1831 amounted to the deaths of nearly 4,000 elephants. Ivory can be taken from dead animals — Russians dug up tusks from extinct mammoths — however most ivory came from elephants who were killed for their tusks. For example in 1930 to acquire 40 tons of ivory required the killing of approximately 700 elephants. Other animals which are now endangered were also preyed upon, for example, hippos, which have very hard white ivory prized for making artificial teeth. One item in particular that devastated the elephant herds in Kenya in the first half of the 20th century was the demand for Elephant tusk ivory for piano keys.

Availability

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 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
Environmental Investigation Agency
The Environmental Investigation Agency is an NGO founded in 1984 by Dave Currey, Jennifer Lonsdale and Allan Thornton, three environmental activists in the United Kingdom. Its stated goal is to investigate and expose crimes against wildlife and the environment...

 (EIA) that CITES sales of stockpiles from Singapore and Burundi (270 tonnes and 89.5 tonnes respectively) had created a system which increased the value of ivory on the international market, rewarded international smugglers and gave them the ability to control the trade and continue smuggling new ivory.

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.

In 2007 eBay
EBay
eBay Inc. is an American internet consumer-to-consumer corporation that manages eBay.com, an online auction and shopping website in which people and businesses buy and sell a broad variety of goods and services worldwide...

, under pressure from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, 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
2006 Zakouma elephant slaughter
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...

 in Chad
Chad
Chad , officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west...

. 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.

A more recent sale in 2008 of 108 tonnes from the three countries and South Africa took place to Japan and China. The inclusion of China as an "approved" importing country created enormous controversy despite being supported by CITES, the World Wide Fund for Nature
World Wide Fund for Nature
The World Wide Fund for Nature is an international non-governmental organization working on issues regarding the conservation, research and restoration of the environment, formerly named the World Wildlife Fund, which remains its official name in Canada and the United States...

 and Traffic
Traffic (conservation programme)
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is an international organization dedicated to ensuring that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature....

. They argued that China had controls in place and the sale might depress prices. However, price of ivory in China has sky-rocketed. 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, and monopoly given to traders who bought stockpiles from Burundi and Singapore in the 1980s.

Despite arguments prevailing on the ivory trade for the last thirty years through CITES, there is one fact that virtually all informed parties now agree - poaching of African elephants for ivory is now seriously on the increase.

The debate surrounding ivory trade has often been depicted as Africa vs the West. However, in reality the southern Africans have always been in a minority within the African elephant range states. To reiterate this point 19 African countries signed the "Accra declaration" in 2006 calling for a total ivory trade ban and 20 range states attended a meeting in Kenya calling for a 20 year moratorium in 2007.

In Asia, wild elephant populations are a fraction of what they were in historic times, and poaching of elephants is continued. Elephants are now close to extinction in China, Viet Nam, Laos PDR, Cambodia and Indonesia. Instances of theft of even domestic elephants for their ivory have been recorded in Myanmar.

Alternative sources

Trade in the ivory from the tusks of dead mammoth
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

s 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 loathe to sell museum-worthy specimens in pieces, but this trade does not threaten any living species.

Some estimates suggest that 10 million mammoths are still buried in Siberia.

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
Vegetable ivory
Vegetable ivory is a product made from the very hard white endosperm of the seeds of certain palm trees. Vegetable ivory is named for its resemblance to elephant ivory. Species in the genus Phytelephas, native to South America are the most important sources of vegetable ivory...

, or tagua, and is the seed
Seed
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. It is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant...

 endosperm
Endosperm
Endosperm is the tissue produced inside the seeds of most flowering plants around the time of fertilization. It surrounds the embryo and provides nutrition in the form of starch, though it can also contain oils and protein. This makes endosperm an important source of nutrition in human diet...

 of the ivory nut palm commonly found in coastal rainforest
Rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

s of Ecuador
Ecuador
Ecuador , officially the Republic of Ecuador is a representative democratic republic in South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is one of only two countries in South America, along with Chile, that do not have a border...

, Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

 and Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

 .

See also

  • Elephant and mammoth ivory
    Elephant and mammoth ivory
    Elephant and mammoth tusk ivory comes from the two modified upper incisors of extant and extinct members of the order Proboscidea. Mammoths are believed to have been extinct for 10,000 years. Because of the geographical range in Alaska and Siberia, Mammuthus primigenius tusks have been well preserved...

  • Walrus ivory
    Walrus ivory
    Walrus tusk ivory comes from two modified upper canines. 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 5cm in length.The tip of a walrus tusk has...

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

  • Vegetable ivory
    Vegetable ivory
    Vegetable ivory is a product made from the very hard white endosperm of the seeds of certain palm trees. Vegetable ivory is named for its resemblance to elephant ivory. Species in the genus Phytelephas, native to South America are the most important sources of vegetable ivory...


External links

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