In this somewhat sick twist of irony, National Geographic has this piece on the thousands of elephant deaths in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjidah National Park by poachers. The animals are killed solely for the purpose of obtaining their tusks' ivory, which is then turned into religious objects.
"Ivory, ivory, ivory," says the saleswoman at the Savelli Gallery on St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. "You didn't expect so much. I can see it in your face." The Vatican has recently demonstrated a commitment to confronting transnational criminal problems, signing agreements on drug trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime. But it has not signed the CITES treaty and so is not subject to the ivory ban. If I buy an ivory crucifix, the saleswoman says, the shop will have it blessed by a Vatican priest and shipped to me.
Although the world has found substitutes for every one of ivory's practical uses -- billiard balls, piano keys, brush handles -- its religious use is frozen in amber, and its role as a political symbol persists