The most famous and demanded of elephant products is ivory. However, all sales of ivory are banned until 2016 by the United Nations' Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This does not, unfortunately, mean that it is not used on the black market. Poachers still kill elephants in large numbers for their tusks, which are used in the East for medicinal purposes.
South Africa has one of the best conservation initiatives for the elephant. It has, in fact, been such a success that elephant culling has had to be implemented. This involves the decision to kill off an entire herd or no elephant at all.
All by-products of these cullings may be sold, except the ivory. However, special permission was obtained by South Africa and two other lands to hold one-off sales of the excess ivory under the supervision of the United Nations.
Commercial uses of ivory include the manufacture of piano and organ keys, billiard balls, handles and smaller objects of decorative value.
In the modern industry, ivory is used in the manufacture of electrical appliances, including specialised electrical equipment for airplanes and radar. It is also used for buttons and Scottish bagpipes. In China and Japan, ivory has been used for inlay and small objects, especially for miniature statues and carvings. These are usually of great precision and beauty of detail. During the opium wars, it was used for the opium pipes. In the last few centuries in Europe and North America, ivory has been employed to decorate furniture, for small statues and, occasionally, as a surface for miniature paintings.
The next most common product used from culled elephants is that of the leather. This exotic leather is thick and very durable and has a course, rippled texture. All companies selling or dealing with elephant leather have to comply to the strict requirements of the Convention of International Treaty of Endangered Species (CITES). Products include belts, shoes, jackets, furniture upholstery, as well as bags and flask coverings.
For thousands of years, African Mythology has believed that, by wearing an elephant hair bracelet, you will be prosperous and healthy and not become sick or poor. Elephant hair used in jewellery may come from culled, poached or live elephants, where they have naturally left hair behind after rubbing against trees. It is used in rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces and is woven together to form a strong band. Some elephant hair can reach lengths of up to 100cm, which is impressive for an animal that is officially classified as being hairless.
One of the most eco-friendly products of elephants comes from the dung. Paper is made from the dung by collecting it and boiling it for 3 hours to cleanse it. It is then strained and left to dry. Because most of the elephant's diet passes through its system without being digested, this is a very fibrous paper. It has provided employment to disadvantaged local people without much of a capital outlay as the dung is freely available. The paper is sold to local businesses or directly to tourists, while some is exported internationally. The demand for this eco friendly product has grown exponentially in the last 10 years.