Elephant Destiny: Biography of an Endangered Species in Africa

Front Cover
PublicAffairs, 2001 - Nature - 244 pages
8 Reviews
This concise, richly illustrated biography of the African elephant--from ancient Egypt to the most recent discoveries about elephant society and communication--is also a passionate plea to preserve the species. The relationship between elephant and man has been dominated by brutality and persecution. Centuries of exportation, unabated hunting for ivory, and shrinking habitat have left only five countries in Africa with sizeable elephant herds. Corrupt governments and lawless poachers are currently flouting what little protection the elephant has. What will be the African elephant's destiny? Will it soon be relegated to zoos and nature preserves? Martin Meredith lays out the history of this majestic animal from the Egyptian pharaohs first ivory expeditions 2500 years ago to today, and explores the elephant's role in literature and popular culture. He shares recent extraordinary discoveries about the elephant's ability to communicate, its sophisticated family and community structure, and the ways--rare in the animal world--in which elephants show compassion and loyalty to each other. Meredith also illuminates how the legacy of colonialism in Africa--and unrelenting poverty, disease, and civil war--affects the elephant's fate. Can Africa find a way to preserve its most enduring symbol of freedom? Readers of national bestsellers including Silent Thunder, Elephant Memories, and When Elephants Weep will want to read this urgent, illuminating book. The flow of ivory from Africa in the nineteenth century reached around the world. Ivory in many ways was the plastic of the era. But it offered other highly valued qualities. It possessed a creamy, lustrous beauty that was unique. It was sensuouslyappealing to the touch. And its resemblance to the whiteness of skin was particularly alluring to the Victorian world which saw white skin as a symbol of status and purity. Ivory workshops turned out a vast range of products: buttons, bracelets, beads, napkin rings, knitting needles, doorknobs, snuff-boxes, fans, picture frames, hairpins and hatpins. Ivory handles were fitted to canes and umbrellas, to hairbrushes and teapots. Ivory inlay work embellished mirrors, furnishings and furniture. A labor force of 600 was employed for ten hours a day in Aberdeen, Scotland, to man machines making ivory combs. Ivory was favored too by the makers of scientific instruments. Its whiteness, the ease with which it could be engraved, and its ability to absorb dyes and pigments, proved excellent for the production of instruments of measurement and dials. It was also durable, retaining its form and finish even with constant use. Navigational instruments, slide rules, telescopes and microscopes, all included ivory work. The same qualities appealed to the makers of games such as dominoes, dice, backgrammon, and chess. But the game that eclipsed all others in its use of ivory was billiards. No other material offered such a gratifying combination of touch and appearance, of density and elasticity, of internal balance and resistance to wear. Ivory balls impacting on one another produced an unmistakable "click" which players relished. But the cost was high. Billiard balls and pool balls had to be cut from the dead center of the tusk in order for them to roll properly: the tusk's black nerve canal was used as a center line. The most that a sizeable tusk could produce was no more than four or five billiardballs. Workshops specializing in billiard-ball production, which sprang up in neighborhoods in New York. London, Antwerp and Hamburg, consumed hundreds of tons.... The volume of ivory needed to keep pace with the world's demand was huge. World consumption in the late nineteenth century reached about 1,000 tons. What this meant in elephant terms, according to contemporary estimates, was that 65,000 elephants were killed annually to satisfy the trade. It was increasingly evident that whole elephant populations were in danger of being wiped out.

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Review: Elephant Destiny: Biography Of An Endangered Species In Africa

User Review  - Tim Martin - Goodreads

_Elephant Destiny_ by Martin Meredith is a well-written and fast-reading account of the human and natural history of the African elephant. Roughly two-thirds of the book is an account of human ... Read full review

Review: Elephant Destiny: Biography Of An Endangered Species In Africa

User Review  - Trevor - Goodreads

This is a slim popular history, but it's a good entry to the subject elephants and the ivory trade. Read full review

About the author (2001)

Martin Meredith was a foreign correspondent for the London Observer and Sunday Times, then a research fellow at St. Anthony's College, Oxford.

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