Blood Ivory, 2016 by Craig Santos Perez

Blood Ivory, 2016

When we approach the elephant enclosure
at the Honolulu zoo, I lift my daughter up so

she can see them playing in the shallow pond.
“Look,” I say to her, “They love the water, like you.”

Today, 96 elephants are being slaughtered
across Africa’s wounded savannah. Poachers,

armed with assault rifles, surround the herds.
The adults stomp and trumpet, encircling

their calves. Bullets, those small human tusks, bite
through thick, wrinkled skin. The men stand

above the dead but don’t feel awe or majesty—
they only feel their own awful poverty—

so they hack, saw, and sever the incisor,
once used to split bark, dig, and forage.

Flies swarm, vultures hover, and warlords
sell the “white gold” to fund conflict and terror.

Carvers shape the raw tusks into religious objects,
art, and jewelry—then smuggled across the planet,

which has become a man-made elephant graveyard.
Why do we worship the things that cause others

the most pain, like ivory and gods? This year,
35,000 elephants will be slain. My daughter waves

goodbye to the animals as we walk towards the exit.
Do we build zoos to save what we’ve sacrificed,

to display what we dominate, or to cage our own wild
urge to kill any breathing thing? My daughter plays

with a stuffed elephant doll in the gift shop.
Without a state ban, the ivory market in Hawaiʻi

will soon become the largest in the US.* “Look,”
I say to her. “It has ears, and a mouth, and eyes,

just like you.” She touches its tusks,
smiles, then touches her own teeth.

*The United States is the second largest market for ivory, after China. Hawaiʻi is the third largest market within the US, after New York and California, both of whom passed laws banning the sale of ivory. This poem was written in support of SB 2647 SD 1, a proposed Hawaiʻi state law that would prohibit selling, offering to sell, purchasing, trading, or bartering of ivory, as well as other parts of species that are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Endangered Species Act.

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