Last week I had the opportunity to meet with the CEO of Edu-Entertain Inc., Irvin Laibson, to discuss the fossil ivory products his company sells. Edu-Entertain is a fine arts retailer in Cincinnati that sells many Asian products made from copper, bronze, jade, cinnabar (a bright red mineral) and fossil ivory.
For the interests of my project I reached out to Laibson to learn about the mammoth ivory business and how it relates to the international elephant ivory trade. Here is what I learned:
According to Laibson, all the products sold by Edu-Entertain are made from fossil ivory that is dug up from the permafrost in Siberia and Alaska. Laibson says the ivory comes from fossils of mammoths and mastodons that died thousands of years ago and were buried in glaciers. He says that when the glaciers move, the tusks become accessible.
“There’s a good supply still in Alaska, because...the glacier would break the pieces as it moved down," he tells me. "So you can get sections pretty good, but to find a whole tusk in perfect condition is rare, and that’s why it makes it worth $50-$100,000 a tusk, because they’re in such perfect condition.”
Laibson adds that because the tusks have been frozen for so long, they have amazing qualities. “From the permafrost, it has such strength. It didn’t lose its strength, so that’s why we believe people should use fossil ivory," he reports. I then asked what makes mammoth ivory different from elephant ivory, to determine if there were discernible contrasts.
"Colors," he says. "The beautiful thing about fossil ivory is the colors that it has.”
Most of the time fossil ivory will have reds, greens, purples, all different colors," Laibson adds. "Let’s say there was a mineral deposit of copper right next to it. Well, that would put reds into the tusk.”
Laibson then explains how rare mammoth ivory is to the Chinese, who have the greatest international market for ivory products. “Mammoth ivory is so rare to the Chinese and Japanese now...that it’s like gold.” He went on to describe how ancient Chinese carvers shape the ivory into small statues and trinket. “The Chinese that make these carvings actually make their own tools,” he tells me. “Some of the products we have on [our website] are carvings from mammoth ivory, and they’re made by these old masters who make their own tools, and they carve these tiny little carvings."
While Laibson encourages patrons to buy ivory, he only endorses fossilized sources. “The difference between elephant ivory and mammoth ivory is that elephant ivory comes from live sources, which we are totally against,” he says firmly. “We believe not to kill elephants, walruses and narwhals just for their tusks...We’re not against people using when the animal dies naturally, but to kill them just to get their tusk is, to us, a sin.”
So far Edu-Entertain Inc. is the only link I have found to an ivory market in the Greater Cincinnati area. but I have yet to determine whether this business is encouraging or discouraging the ivory trade that kills 96 elephants a day. Nor is it clear whether it has an affect on the U.S.'s demand for ivory products, but I hope to find out.
So what do you think? Is mammoth ivory an ethical alternative to elephant ivory, or does it feed an already greedy hunger? Leave your comments below!
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.