A HUNDRED RAIDERS ON HORSEBACK CHARGED OUT OF CHAD INTO CAMEROON’S BOUBA NDJIDAH NATIONAL PARK, SLAUGHTERING HUNDREDS OF ELEPHANTS—entire families. Carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, they dispatched the elephants with a military precision. And then some stopped to pray to Allah. Seen from the ground, each of the bloated elephant carcasses is a monument to human greed. From the air the scattered bodies present a senseless crime scene—you can see which animals fled, which mothers tried to protect their young, how one terrified herd of 50 went down together, the latest of the tens of thousands of elephants killed across Africa each year. (National Geographic)
Elephant poaching is at a record high, unfortunately not a surprise. But what IS surprising is what is fueling this demand; ivory to be carved for religious art pieces. Crucifixes, amulets, prayer beads, buddhas-all made from elephant tusks.
Roman catechism states “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”In Vatican city, you can buy ivory crucifixes blessed by a priest. Want a baby Jesus or a patron saint? They’ve got those too. Last year Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman gave Pope Benedict XVI an ivory-and-gold thurible. In 2007 an ivory Santo Niño was given to Pope Benedict XVI. For Christmas in 1987 President Ronald Reagan was presented with an Ivory Madonna by Pope John Paul II.
The CITES treaty (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), was adopted as a way to globally safeguard our wildlife. Conveniently, the Vatican has NOT signed the treaty, so it’s not subject to the Ivory ban.
In the Philippines, Ivory is synonymous with religion. The very word ivory also means a religious statue. The priests say smuggling elephant ivory is an act of devotion, part of ones sacrifice to the Santo Nino (holy child).
Worried about getting an item back to the US? They will gladly and openly give you advice how to smuggle it back into the US. According to Monsignor Garcia in the Philippines “Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it”. “So it looks shitty with blood. This is how it is done.”
This is not an issue specific to Catholicism. The Buddhist monks make thousands of dollars from amulets of ivory sold in temple gift shops. The elephant is revered in Buddhism, as in all of Thailand. To be respectful of the Buddha it is believed one should use precious material; if not ivory then gold. But ivory is thought to be more precious.
Muslims use ivory for prayer beads, Christians make Coptic crosses and other items. The Philippines, Thailand, China, and Egypt are all involved in the bloodshed.
The global religious market is the driving force behind the massive slaughter of the elephants. Blinded to the blood dripping off their crucifixes, the elephant continues to die in order to “honor God”.