Ivory Wars

Title Date
Ivory Wars 2008-09-03
Time Frame  DOK
2 days Level 3
Objective Short Description
Students will understand the following:
- There has been a history of killing elephants in Africa for trade.
- The 1990s saw much debate and legislation about African elephants.
- There are arguments for and against killing elephants for their ivory.
Students will gain understanding of how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival. They will know that all organisms (including humans) cause changes in the environment where they live;some of these changes are detrimental to themselves or other organisms and others are beneficial.
Grade Levels
Vocabulary Materials
- ivory

Definition:A hard, smooth, yellowish-white substance composed primarily of dentin that forms the tusks of an elephant.

Context:At one time, it looked like the price of ivory was going to be extinction of African elephants.

- hierarchy

Definition:The categorization of a group according to ability or status.

Context:Sparring between the young males establishes a hierarchy which the animals remember and respect throughout their lives.

- poachers

Definition:Those who hunt or fish illegally on the property of another or in a forbidden area.

Context:Elephants cannot defend themselves against poachers’ bullets.

- matriarchal

Definition:A type of social system in which the mother is the head of the family or social group.

Context:Elephant society is matriarchal. 

Computer with Internet access
Grade Level Expectations   (view gles)
Related Links and Resources

Discovery Education Lesson Plans: Ivory Wars

Discovery Channel Online: Operation Dumbo Watch
In recovery from decades of brutal poaching, the elephants still haven’t found paradise in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro. By Dan Morrison.

African Elephant (Loxadonta africana)
This site, published by the Biodiversity and Ecosystems Network (BENE), gives information about the African elephant in relation to the global treaties and U.S. laws being signed to save them.

Elephant Consultance
This site was published by a Swedish man who works as an elephant consultant. The site describes his work in detail. One of the highlights of this site is the FAQ (frequently asked questions) page that offers answers to many questions about elephants, and gives the visitor the opportunity to ask their own questions. This site was translated from Swedish. There are a few misspellings and grammatical errors.

Elephants & Ivory
This site contains a fact sheet by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on the threatened status of the African elephant.

Lesson Plan
  1. After a discussion of the value of ivory (detailed information available atpanda, the World Wildlife Fund site), take an initial vote in your class to determine how many students are in favor of allowing ivory to be sold and how many are against. 
  2. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, explain that the question of selling ivory is complicated and that Africans have had serious debates on the issue. Explain to students that their assignment is to visit the World Wildlife Fund Web site, examine it carefully, and follow links to or find other sites that discuss both sides of the issue.
  3. Allow students to work at the computer in small groups. To use the WWF site effectively, each group should go to the home page and then do a site search forivory.Members of the group should decide which of the search results to follow through on.
  4. Provide an assignment sheet, with questions such as the following, to students to guide their exploration on the Web: 
    • When did killing African elephants for their ivory begin?
    • Over the course of the 20th century, what happened to the population of elephants in different parts of Africa?
    • What is the status of the elephant population in different parts of Africa today?
    • What pact was signed in 1997? Which countries agreed to it? Which did not sign?
    • What are the arguments against killing elephants for their ivory? What is one argument in favor of killing elephants for their ivory? 
  5. After each group hands in its report, take a second vote to determine how many students are in favor of allowing ivory to be sold and how many are against. If there is a difference since the first vote, ask for volunteers to try to explain the change.
Instructional Strategies

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think that ivory is valuable in the first place? 
  2.  The expression ivory tower suggests a place where people can escape practical concerns of the world. How do you imagine the term came about? Why do you think a soap company named its product Ivory soap? 
  3.  Why do you suppose an African country is named Côte d’Ivoire, which is French for Ivory Coast? 
  4.  Of the following objects that can be made out of ivory—billiard balls, chess pieces, chopsticks, combs and handles of hair brushes, hand-held fans, jewlery, piano keys—which have you had a chance to see and feel close up? What other materials can be and have been used for these objects?

You can evaluate groups’ responses to the assignment sheet using the following three-point rubric: 

  • Three points:all questions answered completely and accurately; no errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
  • Two points:all questions answered adequately; some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics 
  • One point:sparse and inadequate answers; many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

Elephant Family Life
Ask students to explore the way elephants live in groups—and their family life. Ask them to tell how an elephant community is similar to and different from human families. They should mention that some human families, like elephant families, are headed by females, that some elephant families have many cousins living together, and that the male in elephant groups compares with a father in a human family.

Other Endangered Species
Lead a class discussion on endangered species in the United States and in other parts of the world. Assign one species to each group, and ask the groups to track the statistics of the species over the last century (perhaps as a graph) and to explain to the class the animal’s current status and its chances for a future.

Suggested Readings:
African Elephants
by Eduard Zingg, Adbo and Daughters, 1993.
ISBN 1-56239-216-6
LC 93-3699

Elephants: the Deciding Decade
by Ronald Orenstein, editor, Sierra Club Books, 1991.
ISBN 0-87156-565-X
LC 91-15254
Includes information on the ivory trade ban.

African Elephants & Rhinos: Status Survey & Conservation Action Plan
by D. H. Cummings [et al.], Island Press, 1990.
ISBN 2-88032-975-2