By Don Pinnock
The kiss of the elephant was firm but gentle. It was delivered on my cheek, after which she dropped her trunk and took my hand. I looked up into her eyes and … was that a twinkle of amusement?
Our meeting place – a muddy paddock in the Magaliesberg – wasn’t romantic, but in that magic moment it didn’t seem to matter. I fell in love, right there, with an entire species.
Then I remembered the small ivory Buddha I’d been given years earlier. Its creation had probably required the death of a great creature like the one with the lips of her trunk round my hand. This realisation – and the contradiction that murder was required to make the figure of one of Earth’s most peace-loving saints – made my ears ring.
‘Sorry,’ I said, but she just kept on holding my hand.
It turned out that I wasn’t alone in avoiding the connection between a beautifully carved ivory object and the death of hundreds of thousands of elephants. In China, where most such carving takes place, a recent survey by HorizonKey in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou found that seven out of 10 Chinese don’t know that ivory comes only from dead elephants.
It noted that more than half of those who did know thought poaching wasn’t common and a third thought ivory came from natural elephant mortality. What they weren’t likely to acknowledge – given the ancient Chinese craft of ivory carving – is that, according to the World Wildlife Fund, around 30 000 African elephants are poached every year to support the huge market in exquisite collectables. More....