Posted in Africa, Elephants, Extinction, Jabu


Jabu’s tusk

Carved ivory thrones are mentioned in the Bible.  King Solomon had one, covered with gold.  Tutankhamen’s casket had a carved ivory headrest for his pillow.  Cicero wrote of Roman houses where ivory doors opened onto entire rooms covered with ivory tiles.  Gladiators had chariots made of ivory.

In the 1800s, in Africa, ton after ton of tusks were transported thousands of miles to Zanzibar and Khartoum, carried on the backs of slaves.  An estimated two million elephants were slaughtered from 1860 to 1882, their tusks fashioned into billiard balls and piano keys.

The decade between 1979 and 1989 was the deadliest ever for African elephants.  Over 691,000 died.  In a line, trunk to tail, enough elephants to cover the distance between Miami, Florida and New York City: 1120 miles.  Around 8800 tons of ivory was harvested in that decade.  The average weight of tusks traded in 1979 was 21 pounds.  Fifty-two elephants died for each ton of tusks.  By the mid-1980s the average weight had shrunk to just 11 pounds – and so more elephants, 100 of them, died per ton.

In just one decade, the elephant population of Africa was halved – from 1.3 million to 650,000.

In Amboseli National Park, in Tanzania, a recessive gene is becoming dominant, occurring in 50 years instead of thousands, selected by poachers.

Year after year tuskless elephants are born.


Cheryl Merrill’s essays have been published in Fourth Genre, Pilgrimage, Brevity, Seems, South Loop Review, Ghoti, Alaska Quarterly Review, Adventum and Isotope. “Singing Like Yma Sumac” was selected for the Best of Brevity 2005 and Creative Nonfiction #27. It was also included in the anthology Short Takes: Model Essays for Composition, 10th Edition. Another essay, “Trunk,” was chosen for Special Mention in Pushcart 2008. She is currently working on a book about elephants: Larger than Life: Living in the Shadows of Elephants.

3 thoughts on “Ivory

  1. Amboseli National Park is in Kenya, just north of the Tanzanian border. We spent several days in the park and saw many elephants. If I recall correctly, there are about 800 living in the park. We even had the privilege of being charged by a one-tusked old bull elephant. We didn’t notice any tuskless elephants, other than the very young, though. Interesting write up on ivory. Thanks.

    1. Cynthia Moss and her researchers have been reporting tuskless elephants for years. Interestingly, the same phenomena applies to South Luangwa. During the 60s and 70s, the area was heavily poached of both rhino and elephants. 50,000 rhino were gone by 1985. One of our guides, Phil Berry, was one of the individuals who tried to stop the poaching. We saw many tuskless females in the northern park of the park. So jealous you got to Amboseli! Thanks for the comment.

  2. But will it be too late! I can’t bear the thought of these majestic, sentient, intelligent, emotionally wondrous , beautiful beings being gone! It horrifies me. Great post x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s