Elephant tusks are used for obtaining ivory, a hard, white substance that can be found only in the tusks and teeth of certain mammals. The ivory itself is used to make a variety of items that are typically used to show affluence, wealth or importance.
Much like many gemstones, ivory is expensive but not practically useful. Ivory can fetch as much as $1,000 per pound in some areas. The uses for ivory are primarily decorative. Carved ivory is used to make works of art, religious objects and decorative boxes for costly objects. Historically, ivory was used to make the whites of eyes for statues. It also has been used for fans, false teeth and even dominoes. Before plastic was invented, elephant tusks and their ivory were used to make cutlery handles, musical instruments, billiard balls and piano keys.
Although international trade in Asian elephant ivory has been banned since 1975, elephant tusks are used all over the world. The biggest market for ivory is in East Asia. Chinese craftsmen use ivory to carve images of deities, pipes, daggers, chopsticks, jewelry, ornaments, souvenirs and hair accessories. Some Asian nations also highly value elephant tusks for their apparent medicinal properties. Even though science has verified the lack of medicinal properties in ivory, there is still a high demand.
The ivory trade is blamed for a dramatic drop in the elephant population from 1979 to 1989, says Animal-Rights-Action. Thousands of elephants are still killed each year in Africa for their tusks, according to The Atlantic.