Blood-Stained Ivory Pendants: An Apiculture Initiative to Save the Elephants

By Nicolle Lavertu

As a child, the elephant resembled a majestic presence of regal serenity, despite its legs continuously chained to pillars for profit. As years passed, my grandmother’s heirloom piano became a reminder of the unnecessary thieving of ivory that we had unintentionally supported to uplift our own musical spirits. To kill an elephant for the mere purpose of molding its tusks or displaying its head may be similar to the infantile nature of seeking attention. One may boast about slicing off the mammal’s tail while thrusting it victoriously into the air for photo opportunities; yet, the behavior only symbolizes our societal reinforcement of those who purge for personal gain. Perhaps, conflicted egos seduced by the zealous nature of power may not understand the profound depth of life. Blood-stained ivory pendants may not represent critical consequences when admired in the reflections of gold-plated mirrors. However, the plight of the elephant is critical. During their extensive time in the Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, American zoologists, Delia and Mark Owens, documented the detrimental costs associated with the illegal ivory trade in their compelling best-seller The Eye of the Elephant: “All [had] their faces chopped off, their tusks hacked away…we were standing in the midst of a killing field, where gangs of poachers [had] slaughtered every grey beast they saw. It [was] an elephant’s Auschwitz” (58). Possible solutions to saving the elephants include drawing awareness to the valuable authenticity of the species itself, the financial and self-serving variables motivating the black market demands for ivory, and the underlying reasons for Africa’s economic dependency on the illegal ivory trade and trophy hunting. Some scholars stress the importance of establishing reliable economic support for countries that invest in cost-effective illegal ivory identification and law enforcement measures. To protect the elephant from extinction, we need to encourage financial stakeholders to invest in beehive fence technology.


Before ivory was converted into an international commodity, many African nations revered the elephant and its pliable tusks. In her article “Ivory as Cultural Document: The Crushing Burden of Conservation,” associate professor and curator of African Art History at Cleveland State University Kathy Curnow stresses the cultural and historical importance of ivory relics. Currently, the world sees collections of ivory as the result of criminal actions. Yet, the use of sculpted and gifted ivory is rooted in respect for the elephant’s noble stature. For centuries, Curnow shares, the traditional people of the Congo adorned elders in ivory as “a demonstration of wisdom, social mastery, and psychological insight, as well as recognition of wealth and status” (63). A deceased elephant’s prestige was passed on to those considered the most influential tribal members while all individuals exuded gratitude for the sustenance its flesh provided. Nevertheless, the illegal trading of ivory erupted with the introduction of European human slave traders in Africa. The elephant populations plummeted due to the continent’s sudden economic reliance on the export of tusks to finance human trafficking. Eventually, international outrage grew for an end to human slavery; however, the global demand for billiard balls and piano keys continued unabated. Now, as the extensive confiscation of illegal ivory occurs to combat the loss of elephants, Bryna Freyer, a Smithsonian National Museum of African Art curator, notes that “the elephant is not the only thing that [is dying], it is also the artist’s legacy and culture.” (qtd. in Curnow 84). To preserve the history of African cultures, one may need to understand the value of curated ivory artifacts.


Over the last three decades, elephant conservationists have strived to pacify the ongoing ecological conflict between man and elephant. Christina Skarpe, an ecology professor at Norway’s Hedmark University, and colleagues discuss these challenges in their e-book “Elephants and Savanna Woodland Ecosystems: A Study from Chobe National Park, Botswana.” Botswanan and Norwegian scientists found that the increased poaching of elephants and rerouted migration patterns have caused critical disturbances in the soils that provide nutrient-rich vegetation for both humans and animals. Unfortunately, the recovery of Botswana’s woodlands may come at an excessive cost to the elephant as some may say that maintaining low populations is beneficial to all species of vegetation and wildlife as well as local economies. The illegal ivory trade affects all who are dependent upon the land for natural sustenance; therefore, efforts to cultivate conservation areas for elephants is vital. In 2016, esteemed alumni of India’s Jindal Global Law School, Armin Rosencranz and Dhiren Sehgal analyzed the effectiveness of historical elephant conservation methods in their article “Elephants, Ivory and CITES.” After the global recognition of the devastating drop in African elephant populations, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), proposed a ban on the sale of ivory in 1989. As a result, the largest of all herbivores began to flourish in countries that recognized the critical need to repopulate. However, due to substantial economic losses created by the illegalization of the ivory trade, political pressure caused CITES to sanction two independent sales of ivory to the Chinese government. China’s acquisition of over 60 tons of raw ivory allowed the country to recover from earlier economic sanctions. Since then, annual dispersing of stockpiled ivory allows Asian factory outlets to continue producing and selling ivory carvings. Yet, the soaring demand for illegal ivory has created underground smuggling operations perpetuated by financial gain (Rosencranz and Sehgal 2-5). With countries regulating the ivory trade taking part in the funneling and stockpiling of illegal ivory, it seems impossible to prevent the extinction of the remaining elephants.


The critical need to protect wild elephant populations has caused mass conservation areas to develop across many African countries; despite this, research is finding that these efforts are not affecting the trafficking of illegal ivory. In their 2014 journal article “Continent-Wide Survey Reveals Massive Decline in African Savannah Elephants,” director of the wildlife conservation organization Elephants Without Borders, Michael Chase et al. introduced the Great Elephant Census (GEC). The continental survey of 18 African countries focused on the populations of elephants with the hereditary traits considered most diverse and resilient to the overall survival of the species. Despite global efforts to further habitat protection and prevent illegal poaching, the number of savannah elephants has decreased by 30% over a seven-year period. Though, nearly 85% of wild elephants roam within the areas protected under conservation laws, the mortality rates within these boundaries were as high as those outside of protected lands. To combat the illegal ivory trade, wildlife conservationists stress the significant contributions that the species of African elephants offer developing countries. Not only do elephants drive ecological diversity through their natural migration patterns, they promote the preservation of ecotourism and cultural stability (Chase et al. 1-24).


Socioeconomic distress in rural areas across Africa is creating conflict between increasing human populations and the African elephant. South African National Biodiversity Institute member, Sarah-Anne Jeanetta Selier et al.’s study “The Influence of Socioeconomic Factors on the Densities of High-Value Cross-Border Species, the African Elephant” investigated the wild elephant population within the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA) across three African countries that depend on ecotourism and hunting expeditions: Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. They found several key correlation factors associated with elephant conservation efforts: vegetation accessibility to sustain mammal foraging, unindustrialized land available for agriculture and farming, government corruption of conservation efforts, increased rural population growth, and levels of sustainable ecological tourism. Poverty, political exploitation, and violence are also contributing to the inability to sustain thriving elephant populations. This has led to extreme conflict over land-use due to the need to protect the elephant from poaching while preserving areas for farming, food cultivation, and mineral excavation. Global conservation efforts to combat the illegal ivory trade cost nearly $7-billion every year. Yet, these well-intended efforts are failing due to the lack of education, financial stability, ethical governance, and accessible resources within Africa’s wildlife preservation areas (Selier, Slotow and Di Minin 1-16).


To understand the dangerous impact that the illegal ivory trade has on conservation measures within many African countries, one may need to understand the problem from an intimate perspective. New York Times journalist, Jeffrey Gettleman’s “Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits” shares the tribulations related to local conservation efforts within Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After discovering 22 dead elephants killed by aerial bullets, chief park ranger, Paul Onyango, questioned the perpetrators’ motives: “They even shot the babies. Why? It was like they came here to destroy everything” (qtd. in Gettleman). Elephant conservationists are facing militarized poaching methods fueled by a dependency on the illegal ivory trade to fund Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army as well as the American-trained and financially supported Ugandan, Congolese, and Southern Sudan military regimes. Gettleman proposes that United States’ taxpayer dollars are contributing to the murder of elephants as ivory tusks are worth over “10 times the average annual income in many African countries.” Gabonian hunters in the Amazon rain forest may trade militia members two tusks for a simple bag of salt: fear and poverty are leading to the increased reliance on the illegal ivory trade for survival. Standing over a decomposing elephant carcass, Garamba park manager, Luis Arranz, admitted that the illegal ivory trade resembles “a [never-ending] drug war” (qtd. in Gettleman). This violent epidemic based on the trafficking of ivory has led many countries to choose an unprecedented solution to end the war between poachers and elephants.


Some may argue that raising the standard of living in African communities or developing more stringent economic sanctions and penalties cannot halt the growing demand for illegal ivory; therefore, it is necessary for radical enforcement measures. The University of Botswana’s legal officer, Geomeone E.J. Mogomotsi and research coordinator, Patricia K. Madigele’s article “Live by the Gun, Die by the Gun: Botswana’s ‘Shoot-to-Kill’ Policy” discusses the country’s drastic approach to preserving the elephant and rhino species. In 2013, Botswana’s government “implemented a controversial ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, targeting suspected poachers” (Mogomotsi and Madigele 51) as prison sentences and fines were not solving the problem. Wildlife tourism contributes to Botswana’s overall financial stability and a militarized method of protecting one-third of Africa’s elephant population is making a significant difference. Since poaching is now recognized as a just declaration of war by the Botswanan judicial system under international humanitarian law, the country’s conservation solutions include “the ultimate penalty” (Mogomotsi and Madigele 54) of death for those who are caught killing elephants for their tusks. As a result, Botswana has increased its elephant population by nearly 30% since the implementation of its shoot-to-kill policy. Mogomotsi and Madigele share that Botswanan officials have declared their country to be “the final haven for endangered species…without significant outcry from the international community” (54). To save the elephant, the extreme and efficient methods of militarized conservation efforts seem to be a solution. However, is the threat of the death penalty for those guilty of poaching or trafficking illegal ivory ethically justifiable?


Some elephant conservationists believe change is coming in how countries view the illegal ivory trade. In the document “Hong Kong Bans Trade in Elephant Ivory by 2022” shared by Environmental News Science, leading elephant preservationists applauded the Chinese Legislative Council for declaring an end to its long economic dependency on the illegal ivory trade. China banned all commercial processing and selling of illegal ivory on December 31, 2017. Trophy imports and exports legally ceased; yet, the marketable trade of local stockpiled ivory will resume until 2021. The bill will also end any financial compensation for current ivory dealers while instituting “maximum penalties for wildlife crimes of up to 10 years imprisonment” (“Hong Kong Bans” 1). The world has celebrated Hong Kong’s decision while stating the continued need for global measures to combat the illegal laundering of ivory and promote ethical transparency of law enforcement. Unfortunately, the high economic costs and losses associated with this solution may deter a complete adherence to poaching and trading restrictions (“Hong Kong Bans” 2). In their 2017 article “Speculating a Fire Sale: Options for Chinese Authorities in Implementing a Domestic Ivory Trade Ban,” South African Institute of International Affairs economist, Ross Harvey et al. confess that these trade regulations do not address the full ramifications of enforcing the ban of international sales. Despite a continuous fall in legal ivory prices within China, there is a concern that neighboring countries, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, will become underground dumping grounds for the current Chinese stockpiles of illegal ivory. Economic incentives to abide by this immeasurable ban may need to be extensive for those who still want to dominate the ivory market.


Though a complete termination of the global ivory trade may help to save the elephant, there are also serious biases within this fragmented solution in the United States. For example, in their article “Trump Wildlife Protection Board Has Many Trophy Hunters,” Michael Biesecker and colleagues of the Associated Press disclose that members of the 2018 International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC) include Erica Rhoad, the director of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) hunting policy, Bill Brewster, a former NRA board member, and Steven Chancellor, who has credited himself with 500 trophy kills, including 6 elephants. If domestic authorities do not uncover and recognize the convenient loopholes that perpetuate the illegal trafficking of ivory, the strategic monopolization of market demands may include the extinction of the elephant for financial and psychosocial gain. Those who propose solutions to global conservation efforts need not have conflicts of interest when advocating on behalf of elephants.


Notably, field and cross-border intervention measures are increasing the efficiency of illegal ivory detection. Recognizing the need to overcome the challenges associated with identifying the origin of ivory samples seized by law enforcement officials, forensic scientist, Thitika Kitpipit et al.’s “A Novel Real Time PCR Assay Using Melt Curve Analysis for Ivory Identification” discuss a cost-effective approach using the scientific analysis of tusks. To file criminal charges or prosecute offenders, “species identification is necessary to discriminate local Asian [or stockpiled] ivory from illegal African ivory” (210). Their validated method of “real-time [polymerase chain reaction (PCR)…using melt curve analysis]” (211) can pinpoint elephant species from any “blood, confiscated ivory, and aged ivory sample” (215). Researchers and border officials may use this well-designed PCR identification method to target areas prone to contributing to the decline in the elephant population. This method of tusk analysis costs less than one-dollar per blood sample; therefore, residents in countries experiencing the excessive poaching of elephants for ivory could receive training in the field of forensic analysis, easing their socioeconomic distress (Kitpipit et al. 215-217). Sadly, this solution only focuses on tracking the death of an elephant and not its existence.


Despite an increase in global protective and legal enforcement measures, it is not enough to solve the sophisticated demands set forth by the illegal ivory trade markets. In her article, “Another Inconvenient Truth: The Failure of Enforcement Systems to Save Charismatic Species,” Elizabeth L. Bennett of the Wildlife Conservation Society argues that insufficient financial and personnel resources, lack of criminal prosecution, and limited governmental and societal commitment are some of the core reasons for the rapid decline in many African species. She believes that corrupt business practices, wealthy influences of foreign markets, and the inability to decrease international demands for illegal ivory are contributing to the irresponsible purging of Africa’s wildlife (Bennett 476-478). On the other hand, overcoming the corrupt practices associated with the illegal ivory trade hinges on much more than the global implementation of systemic laws to protect endangered species.


While countries, such as the United Kingdom, are working towards a zero-tolerance policy against the laundering of illegal ivory, my solution focuses on developing a cohesive existence between humans and elephants using beehive fence technology. It is a resolution that is simplistic in design and based on scholarly evidence. Research has found that specific sounds automatically elicit instinctual fears in elephants. In 2007, University of Oxford zoologist, Lucy E. King, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, and Fritz Vollrath published the results of their study “African Elephants Run from Sound of Disturbed Bees,” indicating that elephants may be classically or operantly conditioned to fear the buzzing sound of bees. King et al.’s research suggests that elephants may “remember or associate the sound of bees with a negative historical event, be it individual or collective, to which the correct response was rapid retreat.” Elephants have learned to avoid and escape bee stings through a conditioned auditory response behavior and negative reinforcement (King, Douglas-Hamilton and Vollrath). In other words, individual or herds of elephants evade areas with active beehive fences, which is pertinent to developing boundaries between conservation and agricultural areas.


Those who are unfamiliar with behavioral psychology may consider apiculture, or beekeeping, fences an impractical and unwarranted solution. Yet, researchers have also delved deeper into the significance of auditory stimulation related to elephant conservation. Furthering the efforts to understand how specific stimuli affect the behavior of elephants, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Education and Science Department member, Joseph Soltis et al.’s journal article “African Elephant Alarm Calls Distinguish Between Threats from Humans and Bee” revealed the various auditory warnings of elephants in Northern Kenya. Similar to the sound of bees, elephants have the same defensive reaction to the sensory cues of “Masaai pastoralists, who are known to kill elephants, … [while] the animals reacted less to olfactory and visual cues of Kamba agriculturalists, who pose less of a threat” (2). Elephants can distinguish between those who actively participate in the illegal ivory trade and those who compete with the species over natural resources (Soltis et al. 2). Consequently, conservationists need to realize that the elephant’s innate fear of bees can be used as a cost-effective way to preserve African’s growing dependency on agriculture and reduce the conflict between humans and animals.


Those who advocate for alternative methods to salvage the relationship between elephants and humans may trivialize the advantages of using beehives as a part of a realistic solution to the illegal ivory trade. Yet, the validity of intentionally reducing the elephant population to sustain local inhabitants may be based on ineffective human adaptation and alternative priorities. Global conservation efforts cannot control the underground trafficking of ivory, nor the poaching of elephants by greed-driven industries and individuals. In addition, plenty of activists have focused solely on moving elephants to restrictive areas that are far too small to sustain the world’s largest mammal; therefore, elephants foraging for food tend to face the challenge of migrating around new structural and agricultural developments. Beehive fence technology is the most pioneering, affordable solution to developing a social relationship between humans and elephants, and it is working. According to Save The Elephants, the charitable organization founded by Iain Douglas-Hamilton to create harmony between mammal and man, beehive fences in rural Kenya have a success rate of over 80% at keeping elephants away from local fields and plantations. African farmers who have turned to financial opportunities based on cattle-raising and agriculture are now able to increase their potential for monetary gain without injury to elephants. Pairing elephant conservation with the solution of beehive fences is reducing the animosity that exists amongst species trying to survive the harsh reality of ivory laundering. Robert Goodier, editor of Engineering of Change and author of “Bees v Elephants: From Chad to South Africa, Beehive Fences Deter African Elephants from Crops,” describes Lucy K. King’s approach to solving the conflict between man and mammal as unprecedented. Throughout her award-winning Elephants and Bees Project, King reports that communities vulnerable to encroaching elephants have developed a greater “sense of empowerment” (qtd. in Goodier 41). This is critical in developing global and local support for this solution. Beehive fence technology may not end the illegal laundering of ivory; however, the economic prosperity from the cultivation of honey may reduce the adversity between elephant and humans. To be able to produce over 500 pounds of marketable honey and coexist where there was once a war between man and mammal is a remarkable feat.


Due to the rapidly declining population of the surviving forest and woodland elephants in Africa, it is necessary to recognize the comprehensive advantages for investing in beehive fence technology. Save The Elephants notes several benefits associated with this collaborative solution. Beehives hung on fences erected around the borders of local farms will encourage the active buzzing of bees to act as conditioned stimulus to deter elephants from raiding crops. This solution not only protects farmlands from foraging elephants, but also it reduces the urge to kill the mammal and sell its tusks to ivory traffickers. Instead, farmers can focus on supplementing their income with the sale of honey and other products made of beeswax. The Serengeti Development Research and Environmental Conservation Centre (SEDEREC) in Tanzania also supports the beehive fence initiative; however, others argue that this solution has its limitations. Wild elephants are mass herbivores with little woodlands left to consume (Skarpe et al.). Admittedly, beehive fence technology will not provide elephants with larger conservation areas. On the other hand, the introduction of apiculture fences to support the natural migrations patterns of elephants may lead to vast reforestation and fauna resurgence.


To reduce the conflict in war-torn areas and the dependency on illegal behaviors, resolutions may need to come in sustainable and successive approximations to long-term goals. According to Save the Elephants, beehive fence technology focuses on specific and measurable steps towards decreasing the communal need to depend on the illegal ivory trade. Many African villagers are familiar with the art of apiculture; therefore, education, skills training, and supplies are minimal. Financial stakeholders only need to provide a small start-up investment as the construction of optimal beehive fences are cost-effective at a maximum of $500 per 100 meters. Agriculturists, researchers, and law enforcement officials maintain the simple beehive designs created from local materials. Farmers across Africa have already reported an increased quality of life due to a significant reduction in elephant crop-raiding, thus increasing their tolerance level to coexist. Finally, bees and elephants are both natural pollinators whose populations may grow within an environment where humans encourage their ecological contributions (Save The Elephants). As a result, woodlands, local fauna, and other natural vegetation may also begin to flourish while reestablishing migration patterns for elephants.


Critics will argue that the socioeconomic distress that developing countries in Africa are facing is irreversible and dependent upon the illegal ivory trade. Granted, the economic stability achieved using beehive fence technology may take time. Yet, the possibilities of this collaborative solution involving fair wages and global conservation efforts are endless. According to Save The Elephants, the sales of King’s Elephant-Friendly Honey have already increased the global demand for African honey products; beekeeping may become the driving force behind reestablishing ecotourism in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. Profits derived from expanded ecotourism may lead to an increase in prosperity within local communities and decrease the rising conflict to survive between man and elephant. The need to engage in acts related to the illegal ivory trade may diminish when reasonable financial earnings motivate coexistence. Eliminating the trafficking of ivory will rely on international transparency and monetary support; however, the global protection of elephants depends on improving the socioeconomic autonomy of developing nations with beehive fence technology.


While wild elephants are nearing extinction, conservation efforts remain fragmented and reactive instead of consistently proactive. Some may believe that stricter penalties for those engaging in the illegal trade of ivory tusks will drive the demand for a prohibited product beyond its financial and historical value; therefore, we must continue to promote global education, accountability, and responsibility while creating realistic incentives to end the illegal ivory trade. The rapid decline in the elephant species shows that a solution must also focus on innovative measures that not only ensure the success of the mammal itself, but the economy of all nations as well. To reduce the reliance on the illegal ivory trade by the people of Africa, beekeeping fence technology is the most effective solution to encourage diverse species to coexist. Like all challenges with human ambivalence, a commitment to change comes when hope is foreseeable. Yet, we must endorse this solution quickly as “the ivory trade not only kills elephants but also leads to the deaths of people trying to protect them” (D. Owens and M. Owens 288). Financial investments in beehive fence technology could, conceivably, save the relationship that is necessary to end the senseless act of persecuting the elephant to fuel the illegal ivory trade.



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