Blood-stained Ivory: The Dark History Of The Trade In Elephant Tusks


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Dec 18, 2015
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The ivory trade is a story as old as human civilization, filled with tales of adventure, greed, and exploitation. For millennia, ivory has been prized for its beauty, rarity, and versatility, making it one of the most valuable commodities in the world. From the ivory carvings of ancient China to the ivory-handled weapons of medieval Europe, the trade in elephant tusks has left an indelible mark on human history. But with all its glamor and allure, the ivory trade has a darker side. The quest for ivory has led to the widespread slaughter of elephants, pushing some species to the brink of extinction and devastating ecosystems across the globe. Today, the ivory trade continues to thrive, fueled by demand from illicit markets and perpetuated by corruption and organized crime. In this article, we delve into the rich and complex history of the ivory trade, exploring its origins, impact, and legacy

The Ancient Beginnings of the Ivory Trade There’s plenty of evidence that mankind’s tragic obsession with harvesting ivory dates back to ancient times. To begin with, the later dynastic Egyptians were hunting elephants for ivory from as early as the 15th and 16th centuries BC. Egyptian pharaohs would hunt Asian elephants along the Euphrates River while the Egyptian empire as a whole sourced ivory from the lands that bordered the Upper Nile. Records have been found that indicate that in 700 BC alone Egypt imported 700 tusks from Somalia. The Ancient Greeks and Romans were also fans of using ivory in their artwork. Roman ivory mainly came from Africa and was sourced from North African Elephants. These were the same elephants that were used in the Roman colosseum fights and which the Romans also sometimes used in military campaigns. The Roman trade in ivory was such that in 77 AD Pliny the Elder (a renowned Roman historian) complained that ample supplies of ivory were a thing of the past unless one traded with India. The Roman demand for ivory had completely depleted the supply and decimated elephant populations in Africa. It took these populations, and the resultant trade in African ivory, several centuries to bounce back. Over in India, there is evidence that ivory was being used by the Harappan civilization (located in the Indus River Valley) as early as the third millennium BC. There is also evidence that from around the sixth century BC, Indians were importing large amounts of ivory from Ethiopia. At the same time, ivory from Indian elephants was also being exported to the west. In short, it seems just about everyone had their fingers in the ivory trade

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