Thursday, September 23, 2021


 Stanley - Thursday

Elephants are my favourite animal. I love their sense of family and community, their sensitivity, and their sense of humour. So, the word 'ivory' evokes myriad reactions in me: anger, disappointment, longing, awe.


Although the threat of extinction of elephants is not as great as of rhinos, as depicted in Michael and my thriller, Shoot the Bastards (Dead of Night outside North America), there is growing concern about the future of these magnificent animals. I have found it difficult to nail down reliable statistics, but it seems as though anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks. With a total African population of about 350,000, experts fear the current rate of poaching exceeds reproduction, resulting in population decline and eventually extinction.

[With international bans in place on the sale of ivory and declining source and street values of ivory, it appears that elephant poaching has declined from its peak of about 10% in 2011 to around 4%. A year of COVID lockdown has also helped.]

I am also angry at the corruption that exists in some countries and organisations allowing the whole enterprise to continue.


I am disappointed by two things with respect to the illegal trade in ivory. First is that people feel the need to continue to buy ivory products, thus driving the need for poaching. Second, I am disappointed that there are so many people in poverty that some are easily tempted by traders to kill the elephants. Alleviating the poverty will reduce the incentive to get involved in the illegal trade.


Whenever I see ivory, I long to be in the bush. I am fortunate to share a bungalow in a private game reserve abutting the great Kruger National Park in South Africa. The is nothing that can compare to sitting in an open game vehicle surrounded by a hundred or more elephants. Scary? Yes, because of their immense size. It does make one's heart rate rise to have 5 tonnes of elephant a metre or two from the car. Exhilarating? Yes, because they are so magnificent. They can be amazingly sensitive - I have seen one gently move a little terrapin out of the way of other elephants coming to drink at a water hole. And they can be dangerous, easily capable of flipping a vehicle over if roused. 

I am longing now because I haven't been in the bush for over a year.


When I started thinking about today's blog, I wanted to talk about a piece of carved ivory that I have that was probably carved at the end of the nineteenth century. I love it just as much for a beauty of the ivory as the remarkable beauty of the ivory itself. As I thought about it, all these emotions flooded into me. I couldn't isolate the piece from the rest. And, of course, I am fully aware of the irony of owning and loving something made from a substance I want to prevent others from owning. I salve my conscience with the hope that the tusk from which my piece was carved came from an elephant that died of natural causes. 

The piece is a bowl from the Ekiti area (Owo kingdom) of the Yoruba in what is now Nigeria. It lies between the two famous centres of art, Ife and Benin. The bowl probably belonged to a person of high status and was used for keeping personal adornments. The carvings include flute players, a prisoner on a rope, crocodiles, hand-held fans, and probably a portrait of the owner.

My plan is to give it to the Museums Commission of Nigeria when I die. 


  1. "Anger," "Disappointment," "Longing," "Awe." All states of mind and being that confront us every day in so many ways in this once unimaginable state of our planet. Perhaps our way out of this is to step back and be more like your beloved elephants--including flipping over what dares to rouse us.

    By the way, that's a most admirable bequest of that magnificent carving, my friend.

  2. The sculpture is beautiful, Stan. So intricate and fascinating. The news of the drop in poaching also wonderful to see. Seeing the creatures in the wild always thrills me, makes me wonder at how a beast of such size and weight can so gentle with each other and so graceful when they move. I have seen them angry too, but only briefly. It’s so hard to fathom how anyone could bring himself to kill one.