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.