As a child I grew up seeing elephants on a semi-regular basis, while living in Kenya. I spent an endless number of family weekends visiting our many National Parks (Tsavo, Hellsgate, Shimba Hills etc), hiking and on safari, and we were always guaranteed an elephant sighting.
Last year, I travelled back to Kenya for holiday, and whilst visiting the Masai Mara National Park (which is arguably the best park in Kenya), I was surprised at the lack of elephants. We only saw one elephant family in four days – and that was because we went looking for them – which seemed incredibly unusual, given my numerous elephant encounters in the past.
The number of elephants have decreased at an alarming rate, with approximately 30,000 elephants being slaughtered annually by poachers. Kenya has been altogether against the ivory trade for years and helped change global policy to ban ivory trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Last year, in April, Kenya had the largest burning of elephant tusks, an incredibly costly publicity stunt, in the hopes of raising awareness on the dangers of poaching. For a developing country to do something like that is awe-inspiring. In theory, Kenya could have sold the ivory, instead of mass burning it, with the proceeds going in to the federal reserve, or it could have funded farmers, education, healthcare – the list is endless. However, in reality, due to a corrupt system, the proceeds were more likely to line some already-rich pockets, if they had chosen to sell it. Knowing the reality of the system there, I can honestly say that the burning was a better idea. It was the right thing to do and makes me proud to be part-Kenyan.
However, the now-diminished supply of ivory has led to an increase in the value of it, and has meant that poaching has not been deterred as much as one would hope. The publicity and awareness raised by the mass burning has definitely resonated amongst the western world, but the Far East seems to be unaffected by the future consequences of poaching elephants, and continues to steadily demand it. China and Vietnam are the biggest consumer market for ivory, viewing it as a symbol of wealth, status and power. It is sculpted to make decorative accessories, ornaments and jewellery.
To reiterate, in certain places, it is acceptable to make extinct an entire species (which would lead to extinction of other species), permanently damage our ecosystem, and brutally slaughter one of the most gentle and altruistic animals, to make DECORATIVE HANDLES ON THEIR CUTLERY. Once again, the worst side of human nature (and human ignorance) rears its ugly head.
‘Blood & Ivory’ highlights the beauty and natural grace of the creatures themselves, their altruistic nature, their ability to empathize and their similarities to humans in cognitive function and emotions. They are so much more than just their tusks. The viewer is forced to acknowledge that their tusks are not the most beautiful part of them, and should not be valued more than the animals themselves. The kinetic background makes the viewer look hard at them, symbolizing the reduction in their abundance, as well as, the second, much deeper, look it sometimes takes to appreciate the beauty in them.