Blood Ivory: Why Elephants Are Being Killed to Make Religious

A lot of atheists tend to support animal rights and the cover story of the latest issue of National Geographic (October, 2012) covers the intersection of both worlds… it’s not pretty.

The story is about how elephants are being slaughtered “so that their tusks can be carved into religious objects.”

Contraband that failed to get past Kenya’s law enforcement agencies (Brent Stirton – National Geographic)

Carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, they dispatched the elephants with a military precision reminiscent of a 2006 butchering outside Chad’s Zakouma National Park. And then some stopped to pray to Allah.

Each January some two million faithful converge on Cebu to walk for hours in procession with the Santo Niño de Cebu. Most carry miniature Santo Niño icons made of fiberglass or wood. Many believe that what you invest in devotion to your own icon determines what blessings you will receive in return. For some, then, a fiberglass or wooden icon is not enough. For them, the material of choice is elephant ivory.

Many Thais wear amulets, sometimes dozens, to bring them luck and protect them from harm and black magic. Bangkok’s amulet market is huge, with countless vendors selling tens of thousands of small talismans made of materials such as metal, compressed dust, bone — and ivory. High-end amulets can fetch $100,000 or more. There are magazines, trade shows, books, and websites devoted to amulet collecting. Amulets hang from the rearview mirror of almost every Thai cab. Ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra credits his Buddhist amulet with saving him in assassination attempts, and the Thai Army has distributed amulets to its border soldiers to ward off Cambodia’s black magic.

It’s bad enough that these animals are getting killed for frivolous reasons — that they’re killed in the promotion of religion and superstition just adds insult to injury. It’s not just the fault of one group of believers — hell, Roman Catholics are working with Muslims to facilitate this. Buddhists want the ivory, too.

In an interview, the author of the piece, Bryan Christy, said it’s up to religious leaders to end this practice:

… “the leader[s] of the Catholic Church have an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference to the survival of elephants. Few words to them: enough with the religious icons in ivory.”

(Thanks to Anu for the link)


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About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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