Why do people want elephant tusks?

African elephant image by michael luckett from Fotolia.com

Elephants in both Asia and Africa are hunted for their tusks. This is because the tusks contain ivory, which is valuable for many different purposes. Sometimes people want these tusks for money, others for status.

No matter what the reason, killing elephants for their tusks is making the population decline to dangerous numbers.


Having elephant tusks or things made of ivory is often seen as a symbol of status. This is because ivory is not easy to come by, so the possession of ivory speaks for itself. Some things made of ivory, like piano keys, are not as sought after as others, like whole tusks or artworks. No matter the reason, ivory is very often synonymous with status.


People want elephant tusks for money. There are several ways to make money from elephant tusks. One is to be a poacher. These people kill the elephants and take their tusks to sell to others. Poachers do not typically keep the ivory for themselves. Another is for money for the state. In 1989 Kenya was faced with this problem. A group called CITIES, or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, made them burn about 12 tons of the country's ivory stores. The financially poor country could have used the money from the ivory, but that would have sent a different message than burning it.

Scholarly Reasons

In the past, elephant tusks were desired so that they could be studied to learn the properties of ivory. Over time too many elephants were killed and the population started to decline. While this decline was not strictly from scholarly killings, they did play a part. So in 1989 a law called The African Elephant Conservation Act was passed to prohibit the killing of elephants.

Cultural Reasons

Elephants have been a part of African and Asian cultures for centuries. Tusks were sometimes used in native art and other cultural rituals. Tusks used for these purposes were most likely taken from elephants that were killed and used for food that died of natural causes. They were not killed simply for their ivory.


Only male elephants have tusks. So, when people are killing elephants for their tusks, they are slowly killing off just the male population. While there may be a large number of female elephants in an area, they cannot reproduce without the males.