Almost two tons of illegally poached ivory was recently confiscated in Singapore and then sent back to Kenya. In July over 2 tons of ivory, most likely from baby elephants, was seized in Hong Kong en route from Togo.

Asia’s demand for ivory is wiping out Africa’s elephant population. Togo only has 60 elephants living in protected national parks. Though the recent arrest of an ivory kingpin in the country is certainly good news, one can’t help but think that such events as described above are insignificant in the face of the global ivory trade.

Orphaned baby elephant in Kenya, whose mother was killed by poachers. Pic: Kerri Lee Smith (Flickr CC)

Togo banned the trade in ivory 5 years ago, but despite this and the fact that its elephant population is relatively small, the West African nation remains a transit spot for the illegal export of ivory from Africa to China and beyond.

From BBC News:

Akoumassou Totchikpa, the head of Togo’s Forestry and Fauna Commission, says most of the trafficked ivory comes from the West African sub-region, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana and Ivory Coast.

The statistics are shocking: one African elephant is slaughtered every 15 minutes to feed the Asian ivory trade. At this rate there will be no African elephants left within 12 years. According to estimates, 36,000 were slaughtered for ivory last year alone.

From the IB Times:

At present, there are around 400,000 African elephants and 43,000 Asian elephants left in the world. The highest number of illegal ivory seizures for 23 years was recorded in 2011.

Though most of the ivory may enter the illegal market, significant amounts are regularly seized by customs officials. What to do with the seized ivory stocks is a topic of some debate. Last year the Philippines became the first consumer country to destroy its stockpile of ivory. Although mostly a transit country, the Philippines is also a consumer, mostly due to the Catholic Church’s use of ivory in religious icons, according to a piece in the Manila Standard Today.

Elephants need tusks, humans don't. Pic: Greenwich Photography (Flickr CC)

But should ivory simply be destroyed or used in some way to educate the public about the cruelty and wonton destruction of nature brought on by the gruesome trade? Some believe it should be used in art installations, but wouldn’t this still in some way treat ivory as a product – something of value to humans rather than elephants?

This piece in Treehugger argues for the use of seized ivory in educational art:

We can read about 1,000 tusks being confiscated or the many tons that are sitting in storage, but I think the tusks need to be seen for the horror of poaching to be fully appreciated.

Fair point, but why art? For me, art is considered, rightly or wrongly, as too much of a commodity. Such “atrocity exhibitions” needn’t be treated or labelled as art. For example, turning Auschwitz into a museum was not an act of art, but a reminder of the potential for human barbarity.

Better yet to create exhibits including photographs of slaughtered elephants (as well as poachers who have been killed in the act), informative statistics and perhaps some tusks, but not as material for a work of art. Make educational art, sure, but no need to incorporate the actual ivory.