What Are the Uses of Elephant Ivory?

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The trade of elephant ivory is vigorously condemned in much of the world, although it still achieves a viable market in some parts of Asia, according to The Nature Conservancy. The traded ivory is usually formed into jewelry and other decorative items. It is sometimes even used to fashion miniature elephant statues. The material also had a long history of use around the world before trade was banned.

Throughout the ages, ivory has been employed to create many things. Aside from jewelry and statues, ivory was used in the Middle Ages to produce magnificent reliquaries for the bones and relics of saints, where, according to Columbia University, the pure color of ivory was thought to properly express the sanctity of the remains.

By the 18th and 19th centuries, ivory became a popular material for scrimshaw and comb making, though this was typically at the cottage-industry level. By the 19th century, however, ivory production became big business, particularly by the end of the 1900s when demand for pianos, especially in the United States, exploded with the ragtime era. Ivory was the most desired material for white piano keys.

By the mid-1940s, overhunting of bull elephants slowed piano production considerably. By 1989, the first international ban on elephant ivory was instituted, a move that led to the formal closure of markets in both Europe and the United States. Despite serious efforts by groups worldwide to eradicate the trade completely, as of 2014, Asian markets still provide allure for illegal ivory traders and poachers. The ivory is still used there for jewelry and items such as statuettes.