Each day, over one hundred elephants are killed in the ivory trade. Ivory alternatives like the tagua seed could change that.
According to BBC News, over a century ago, there were up to five million African elephants alive. That number has shrunk to a mere 415,000.
Despite the ivory trade being outlawed in 1989, increased demand for the material has opened up illegal ivory trading between exporters in Africa and buyers in China. Fortunately, 48 year-old Dutchman Onno Heerma van Voss has a solution: the tagua seed.
The seeds of six species of palm trees, tagua seeds can be found in South America. Because they can be made to look and feel like ivory, the seeds have become known as “vegetable ivory.” Similar to ivory, tagua seeds can be “turned into ornate carvings or jewelry.”
As a matter of fact, the scientific name for the species of palm trees that produce seed is Phytelephas, meaning elephant plant. Since the 19th Century, the tagua seed has been imported to Europe as a raw material used to make items such as chess pieces, buttons, and decorative handles. However, the raw material fell into obscurity until 2000, when Mr. Heerma van Voss visited Ecuador.
Mr. Heerma van Voss’s company Naya Nayon operates from its base in Quito, capital of Ecuador, and according to Mr. Heerma van Voss, “sales are booming.” The company now sells the ivory substitute to 70 countries. Mr. van Voss also predicts demand for the tagua seed will continue to rise, with China pledging to end its domestic trade in ivory before the end of the year.
But what about wealthy clients whose demand for ivory stems from its exclusivity? Buyers who want to purchase ivory that is ethically obtained from a mammal should look no further than the Siberian tundra in the north east of Russia.
That’s right. It’s estimated that 60 tons of mammoth ivory are harvested each year. Though mammoth ivory is more difficult to carve, you can still make ornate items from the material. Plus, you’re using the tusks of a badass animal that died tens of thousands of years ago.
Research has proven that elephants are highly intelligent and compassionate creatures. They read human body language, use tools, show empathy, and mourn their dead. Though the ivory trade is far from over, these obscure ivory alternatives provide hope for the most extraordinary mammals on land.