If you thought that all the campaigning in the '90s was enough to keep elephants safe, you're in for some bad news. After a brief respite during Bill Clinton's presidency, elephants are once again being killed for their tusks in record numbers. Dovetailing with the Chinese economic boom, the trade in exotic wildlife (and their parts) is at an all-time high. The pathetic part is that ivory is being used to make bangles, chotchkes, and other pointless trinkets that could be made from any of a number of other materials. 

Asher Jay, an artist and cause-fighter who crusades for animal rights, explains, “Like you and me, elephants are incredibly social beings and are raised in large families. Thinning out the herd implies a loss of family values in both human and elephant societies. Poachers usually go after the elephants with the largest tusks, and the largest tusks belong to the oldest members of the family. Killing the older members of a family leads to the abandonment of young calves, and the loss of intergenerational knowledge transference that is detrimental to the survival of the whole herd. The calves who lose their mothers, grandmothers, and sisters to guns and saws, bear deep psychological and emotional scars from seeing their kith and kin slaughtered before their own eyes. Elephants grieve, they mourn loss over extended periods of time. The phrase 'Boy do you have the memory of an elephant' takes on a disconcerting meaning in this context.”

There's no "good" way to get tusks without killing an elephant. According to Elephant Voices, an advocacy group: "An elephant's "ivory" tusks are enervated teeth composed of dentine that grow throughout life, adding two centimeters each year. They are not shed like antlers, they do not drop out and they just cannot be removed from living elephants. To obtain them you must hack them out with an axe."

How can you help? Actually, it's not that hard; most people won't buy ivory once they understand what goes into getting it, so public perception and education is important. Elephant Voices wants this campaign to go viral as posters, T-shirts, etc. and towards that end, are making images by environmental artist Asher Jay open source (protected by a creative commons license) so they can be printed up and used to spread the message (the awesome artwork, in Chinese and English, is seen on this page and if you click here).

"ElephantVoices is trying to reach out around the world with these messages. We need your assistance, too. Millions of people, potential buyers of ivory, don't know that elephants are dying in record-high numbers for trinkets and decorations. We urge any and all to spread these messages far and wide."

Some detail from the Elephant Voices site about China's contribution to this issue is: 

"The largest demand is in China and, hence, the Chinese government and her people have a special responsibility for taking a lead to end the decimation of elephants. China was permitted to buy a restricted amount of ivory from stockpiles, a decision by the international community that has caused immense harm to elephants. Ninety percent of the ivory available in China is from slaughtered elephants, illegally sourced, traded and sold. Chinese buyers deserve to know that tens of thousands of elephants are being killed to supply them with ivory. Every tusk costs a life."

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

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