Dragon’s Desire for Ivory
Ivory carvings are still desired as symbols of success and prestige, especially for the growing Chinese middle class. Yet, the awareness of how this demand is critically threatening elephant populations seems to go unnoticed to the Chinese public. To decrease the demand for ivory appears to be the only successful way to fight the illegal trade in ivory. Currently, the trade supports a range of illegal and violent businesses. Getting the message across to the Chinese as well as the international society seems the most efficient and peaceful way to prevent the African elephant from becoming extinct within a few years.
Respect for the close family unit and living from a collective mind-set are some of the core values in the Chinese culture. Knowledge and history are passed on through generations, and loyalty to the group of close family and friends goes before the individual. Older generations are valued and shown deep respect for the wisdom that comes from life experience and long-time acquired knowledge.
Wisdom, strong family ties, passing-on knowledge and spending a long time teaching the young generation how to survive and behave are among the behavioural traits that we humans share with the elephants.
The Chinese culture, in particular, shares core values with this treasured animal. Buddhism principles teach compassion and non-attachment to the material world. Meditation is practiced to seek the non-attached and present state of mind. Through their behaviour, elephants symbolise a great present state of mind and resemble the Chinese family values by their collective family units and by their deep respect for the elderly individuals who carry the greatest wisdom of how to survive in their environment. Such values inspire many cultures around the world, especially the western part where religion and collective mind-sets are challenged by the individual and independent approach to living.
Elephant ivory is, however, sought after for reasons that contradict the Buddhist teachings as well as the collective mind-set: The rising Chinese middle class’ desire for status symbols is causing the greatest threat to the elephant populations in Africa through poaching for their tusks. Ivory carvings symbolise attachment to the material world as well as prestige by distancing oneself from the general public.
Perhaps the demand for displaying one’s success through precious items like ivory carvings can be explained by the ancient symbolism of the dragon – great strength, power and good luck to the worthy ones.
Success, based on power, strength and a worthiness to rise in the societal hierarchy, is attractive to display for the acknowledgement and respect by the society. Still, the symbol illustrating success calls for an increased awareness of what it actually represents.
Elephants inspire us by their calm and wise behaviour while living from a strong sense of presence and courage to meet and accept the challenges in their lives, – another inspirational teaching from the Chinese culture.
The trade of illegal ivory products to China directly impacts the African elephants so they may become extinct within a few years from now. The killing has increased dramatically within recent years, both in speed and extent, due to a complex interest in the economic revenue it generates.
The illegal ivory traffic is not only a concern for elephant conservation, it is also a great problem for the organised illegal trade of products from wild species. This is a widespread problem highlighting the lack of control in transnational security. It also illustrates the challenges and mismanagement of high-demand products in developing countries.
Lack of resources to effectively manage and protect the endangered species from poaching by locals who wants the land for expanding agriculture is just one aspect. Poaching has grown to be multi-national and consists of criminal organisations with sometimes anti-governmental interests. Therefore, efforts to protect the endangered wildlife need to be addressed by the international society and are not only the responsibility of the individual countries where poaching occurs.
Although poaching of elephants does occur everywhere in Africa, the impact may have a disproportionate detrimental effect on elephant populations already threatened by low numbers; this is especially true in Central and West Africa where the endemic forest elephants occur. These populations are the most threatened by extinction.
Ivory trading is occurring all over the African continent and there is no control of the hunting pressures in the different populations. Another aspect increasing the trading complexity is that, although poachers, armed gangs and militias are all African, it is Chinese and Asian traders who organise the illegal export out of the African countries. It is a multi-faceted problem that no common strategy can be applied across the continent because the challenges to the individual African nations differ. In central Africa, cross-boundary poaching is the problem, whereas in East Africa, Asian tourists unfamiliar with the ban on ivory are buying on local markets, and that is the problem here.
Currently, the demand for ivory in China is so strong that the profit funds an escalation of the war on elephants. Sadly, the consequences are largely unknown to the middle class Chinese buyers of carved ivory.
It is, therefore, crucial to stop the demand for ivory products, thereby drying out the financial flow that supports the poaching. It would, most likely, save the elephants from being slaughtered, if one could increase the awareness in the Chinese public of how the ivory carvings play a pivotal role in the violent spiral of increased and deadly impact by humans on Nature in general and elephants in particular.
China is already strongly represented in Africa. If the demand for ivory is stopped, it would benefit the fight against organised crime, support the continued sustainable development and economic advancement of the African countries, and reinforce China’s position as an example to follow.
Will the dragon again symbolise strength, power and good fortune instead of an unsustainable hunger for ivory and the unfortunate violence it feeds?
References and literature for further reading on the subject: