Towards a Pink Future

Visits to this site have jumped recently. This elephant pic seems to be playing an out-sized role in the jump.

Elephant whitened tusks before pink

The dolled-up, Photoshop’d version is making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest.

Pink Elephant Tusks courtesy PhotoShop

One day, I hope that the pink will be real – if significantly paler. (Elephants don’t see reds well, so pink may be a good choice.)

This site doesn’t have the answer. The intent is to make the idea plausible enough to intrigue the right people to explore it.

Please comment with suggestions. Please link to this site. If you can’t research it, you can still help. Please forward the site to someone you know of who might look into it.

Like who?

The choice of stain to use is the biggest hurdle, so send it to someone you know who develops non-toxic dyes at a food company. Or that hair color chemist you met who works at L’Oreal.

Or the neighbor who stains bone samples for research (histotechnologist).

Or your brother’s cosmetic dentist who – for something different – might like to figure out how to stain teeth pink rather bleach them white.

Or that nice ivory conservator who might open up about what stains she’s never been able to remove.

Sure, staining tusks is a fringe idea, but I wonder about it because our current anti-poaching strategies are problematic. I go into this at All We Do For the Elephants . . . Exactly. The piece on MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) might be the best introduction to the issues.

Ectopic bone formation induced by sonoporation

Some snapshots (@ 5 microns) of ectopic bone formation, using 2 different staining techniques. Were the stains injected into a person or into a specimen after extraction? Could the dyes be made indelible? Could the staining be scaled up for something the size of a tusk. (fyi, BF = bone formation, BM = bone marrow, M = muscle.) source

Wildlife experts say staining tusks can’t be done. Dr Samuel Wasser at the Univ of Washington explained this to me.

And me? The guy without any credentials and who hasn’t seen an elephant in years? The wildlife experts’ objections seem more like challenges. How’s that for nerve?

I go into why the dye is such a big challenge here. Finding the right one would strongly motivate people to solve the other challenges.

If it is possible to stain elephant tusks to save them, I think that the solution will begin with a conversation between a couple of wildlife experts and some of the people mentioned above who have never thought that what they do could possibly contribute to an anti-poaching strategy.

Here’s a brief example of the NGO mindset of appeasement that pushes me to look at ideas like staining:

In June 2015, after much delay, the Tanzanian government released a 2014 report that showed their elephant population fell 60% in 5 years. 65,000 elephants had been killed. The government claims that only 53,000 of the 65,000 are dead; the other 12,000 are simply missing. One minister is sure they’d emigrated, but I’m not sure where’d they go. Botswana is the only African country to attract a steady flow of elephants from other countries, and it’s 500 miles away.

Tanzania’s poaching and smuggling problems have been reported – outside the country – for a couple of years now. The severity has been attributed to the complicity of government officials.

So, in June, with the report finally released, with publicity and outrage at their hottest, you’d think the anti-poaching organizations would pressure Tanzania’s government to reform.

African Wildlife Foundation, WildAid support Tanzanian government on poaching

From Us All Except, of course, some Tanzanian government officials, but this tuskless little guy is so cute, it’s hard to stay mad at anybody.

No, instead, they offered face-saving. Two of the biggest anti-poaching NGOs, WildAid and African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), let them off the hook by partnering with the government on a feel-good campaign: Poaching Steals from Us All

WildAid and AWF aren’t naive, however. The campaign doesn’t appear to have a fundraising component. It seems solely about awareness raising. The government may be get some ill-deserved goodwill but no cash. On the other hand, WildAid and AWF will likely make some money off the campaign by highlighting it in their general fundraising efforts and end-of-year reports.

See my comments on AWF at All We Do For The Elephants . . . Exactly.

Thanks to both the unknown elephant photographer and the unknown Photoshop artist.



5 thoughts on “Towards a Pink Future

  1. Had a thought, why not use coffee or tea to stain the tusks. A yucky brown icky look. Could accomplish the same and perhaps not have a toxic depth.Is there a process in place to raise dollars?

    • A couple of things.

      Unfortunately, elephant tusks often look tea stained already! Google elephant tusks and you’ll see a range of earth tones. If white tusks predominate, it’s because they’re more photogenic and not more common. Poached tusks are pretty uniformly non-white.

      What your suggestion does make me think: an ivory conservator should know what stains resist restoration with bleaching or whitening techniques.

      Pink may be a good color for staining tusks. A poacher should be able to discern a pinkish hue even on a dirty tusk. More importantly, elephants are partially colorblind. They see reds as greys. Therefore, elephants might only perceive each other’s pink tusks as only slightly darker they remember. Therefore, it is possible that pinkish tusks may not disturb elephants psychologically.

      By the way, I don’t believe coffee and tea – decaf or caf – do permanently stain our teeth. Nor do wine and tobacco. Ditto betel quids though they do leave a pink stain. The old practice of teeth blackening among Japanese women, ohaguro, doesn’t either.

      All these substances, however, are actually staining the hard outer layer of our teeth, the enamel. Elephant tusks wear away most of their enamel layer and are mostly dentin by maturity, which has a very different molecular structure than enamel. I haven’t seen any research on how these substances affect dentin – human or elephant.

  2. I do not know much about poaching and ivory, but, I thought ivory was used to make like decorative things like statues and such. Why would it being dyed pink stop this? It would just make the statue colorful. Like marble is popular and there is pink marble. Now instead of having a little ivory statue I now have a little pink ivory statue.

    • We wouldn’t be able to buy pink ivory for love or money. We wouldn’t want to anyway because we’d all know pink ivory was bloody ivory.

      The price of all other ivory (legal or illegal “white” ivory) would rise, but poaching wouldn’t be profitable.

      The thing is, right now, legal and illegal ivory look the same. With poaching already illegal and elephant tusks suddenly an indelible pale pink, however, we’d know, at least, the pink ivory is clearly and simply illegal.

      The flaw in my reasoning is the status of pink tusks from elephants which died from causes other than poaching. Right now, tusks from dead elephants that were not killed by poachers are often allowed to be sold on. At first, maybe, we might be able to convince CITES to make all pink tusks illegal. Yet, if pink tusks did slow poaching dramatically, then there will soon be a lot of elephants dying of natural causes and a lot of unpoached pink tusks piling up in the government stockpiles.

      Given how CITES and most African elephant range States operate, in a generation, we might be back to legal and illegal ivory looking the same. Could we make pink ivory forever culturally repugnant in a single generation?

  3. My Dad used a dye in chicken feed to learn how food works in their eggs. We ate green, red & purple yolks—it didn’t affect the whites. Purina Chow did the study sometime in the 60s.

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