In 1944, the skin of murdered humans was used for lampshades. 65 years later, the ears of murdered elephants are used as canvases for painting.
There were once 160 species of elephants on the planet. Today, there are only three. Of the remaining species, all three are endangered. Researchers have warned that by the year 2020, there could be no elephants left in the wild. We run the risk of losing them forever. And yet, although they are almost a universal symbol of the tragedy of species extinction, they continue to be hunted for their flesh, hide, tusks and ears. Yes, their ears.
For an average price of several thousand dollars, one can purchase a piece of art, depicting a scene of Africa or its people, or perhaps a portrait of one of these magnificent creatures themselves, painted upon the five-foot tall ear of what was once a majestic animal.
Although commercial trading of ivory has been banned since 1989, U.S. hunters are allowed to import elephant trophies from countries including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Tanzania. Provided you obtain a permit, this hunting of elephants is perfectly legal. Their flesh is sold to local people to eat, and their hides and ears are imported into the United States, where collectors buy artwork painted on them, unconcerned with the sad, horrific truth of their origins.
From the artist’s website: “All elephants are hunted with legal permits by countries participating in conservation programs… [The artist] is commissioned to paint the ears by hunters who have met the stringent hunting and import requirements of the USA.”
What could stringent requirements be for a permit to murder an endangered animal? What kind of a “conservation effort” requires the slaughter of some of the last remaining elephants on earth?
Elephants are beautiful, intelligent creatures who have been on the planet for 60 million years. In the wild, it’s not unusual for a herd of elephants to live together all of their lives, and they often live to the age of seventy, if allowed to survive. Elephants care for each other’s young and they mourn their dead. They are wonderful creatures who bring out a better part of us, because they are one of the few animals we allow ourselves to feel for.
They were our friends when we were children. Even if we only ever saw them in the sad setting of a zoo or a circus, we fell in love with them immediately. Their vast size matched with their remarkable gentleness won us over, and the awe we felt stays with many of us into our adulthood. Their existence offers to humankind the opportunity to rediscover our emotional connection with the world of animals, which is something that humans need desperately.
Change begins with knowledge. Think about our gentle giant friend, the elephant, who’s miraculous, five-foot tall ears are being used by artists as canvases. Art produced with cruelty negates the very purpose of art itself: the elevation of the human spirit.
Photographer: Kristin De More