SCB Statement on the Use of Ivory for Religious Objects

January 24, 2013.  Today, the Society for Conservation Biology approved a formal policy statement on the use of elephant ivory for religious objects on behalf of SCB’s Religion and Conservation Research Collaborative (RCRC), which is a part of SCB’s larger Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group.  The RCRC statement notes that the massacre of elephants in Africa has escalated to record levels over the last 30 years. The main driver of this illegal poaching activity can be traced to the demand in Asia for commercial products that contain ivory, including for religious artifacts, trinkets, and other purposes.  If consumption patterns are not changed, the African elephant populations may decline or altogether disappear over the next 2 or 3 decades. In addition to the ethical concerns raised by the possible extinction of elephant populations or species, the ivory trade is associated with considerable bloodshed for humans as well as elephants.

The policy statement notes that religious leaders have the responsibility and influence to reorient their followers on the procurement and use of religious artifacts made from the ivory of African elephants, and the precarious lives of the humans who protect them.   And, religion and conservation biology can be complementary in reaching the best possible outcome when religious faith is respected, religious communities are open to understanding the problems pertaining to the use of ivory, and religious leaders are willing to prompt a change in attitudes and practices that could help ensure the survival of the African and Asian elephant and the integrity of our planetary future.

In particular, the statement recommends that conservation biologists should

  1. Provide awareness and educational tools for use by religious leaders to reorient their adherents about religious ivory and to elicit an empathic response on the plight of the African elephant.
  2. Encourage religious leaders to issue public statements on the severity of the ivory trade and the direct and negative impact that the religious use of ivory has on elephant populations and local communities and, where appropriate, on the relevant teachings of their religions, such as teachings concerning practicing stewardship of creation.
  3. Urge religious leaders to issue statements to their followers discouraging the use of ivory for religious artifacts (e.g., statues or amulets) and instead use other material (e.g., fiberglass, wood) as substitutes and seek to engage religious leaders in consultations concerning which materials are most suitable from a conservation and religious standpoint.

Read the full statement HERE.