Ivory Mandala: A Fitting Memorial from the U.S. Ivory Crush

Picture of elephant tusks in U.S. repository stockpile
Raw, polished and carved tusks in the U.S. stockpile. Photograph courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tomorrow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will use an industrial rock crusher to destroy its six-ton stockpile of confiscated elephant ivory. The event is both a demonstration of the U.S.’s commitment to stop ivory trafficking and its belief that the legal ivory trade stimulates consumer demand and promotes elephant poaching.

What it is not is a memorial to the elephants that died and a return of their ivory remains to the earth from which they came.

In the following weeks, there will be much discussion about what to do with the crushed ivory. Nothing has yet been decided.

I propose using the ivory dust to create a mandala. Mandalas are sacred sand paintings found in many traditions, including those of Buddhists, Hindus, and the Navajo. These intricate designs represent wholeness and interconnectedness and are made by meticulously placing millions of grains of colored sand on a flat surface or platform. Typically the process takes days or weeks.

Picture of sand mandala from Deprung Gomang Monastery
Sand mandala created at Tibet’s Drepung Gomang Monastery. Photograph courtesy Drepung Gomang sacred art tour group.

When the paintings are finished, they are deconstructed, often by sweeping the sand into the wind or water.

In many ways, this is akin to the scattering of ashes after a funeral. To me, this would be a creative and respectful end for the elephant ivory.

While the deconstruction serves as a metaphor for the impermanence of life, it is also meant to bring healing. Each grain of sand carries a healing blessing that then spreads throughout the world.

Both aspects of the mandala—the process of its creation and the process of letting it go—symbolize how we are connected and are supposed to provide comfort, peace, and wisdom.

Mandalas are also believed to generate positive energy and help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones. That’s what is urgently needed to stop ivory trafficking and the poaching crisis.

In reflecting on the upcoming crush, I only hope that whatever is done with the remains will stand as a fitting memorial to the victims of ivory trafficking and perhaps go some way toward encouraging people to help those elephants still living.

Let us take our cue from the elephants themselves. They teach us (in the words of Kenyan conservationist Daphne Sheldrick) to “focus on the living, rather than the dead, knowing that the dead are beyond any more suffering and pain, and that one has, at least, afforded them a comfortable end surrounded by compassion and love.

Let us honor the elephants fully by banning the trade and refusing to buy ivory.


  1. CC Babcock
    Sacramento, CA
    December 22, 2013, 1:49 am

    It seems to me that destroying stocks of ivory only makes it more rare and therefore more lucrative for poachers to kill elephants. Wouldn’t it make more sense to channel confiscated ivory into the market’s supply lines to reduce its value? The money raised would be far more effective at protecting these magnificent creatures than the symbolic (and counterproductive, I fear) gesture of destroying the tusks for which they gave their lives.

  2. Rita Freels
    November 15, 2013, 6:15 pm

    I think it should be used in an somekind of way like several artistic forms of memorials that people would want to see & have to pay entry to see and the money used to combat the sensless pouching of these smart and emotional animals

  3. Lori Sirianni
    Buffalo, NY
    November 15, 2013, 4:46 am

    I think it would befit the elephants’ loss to be buried at sea by the U.S. Navy. As teeth, it would not be a pollutant any more than the teeth or bones of deceased marine mammals are, and I think it would pay homage to elephants’ love of water, their proper return to the earth, ensure that the tiny pieces of tusks would never be able to be recovered, and be a highly respectful way to bury them.

  4. Erica von Studnitz
    California, USA
    November 13, 2013, 8:56 pm

    I also proposed and think it fitting to create a memorial from the crushed tusks, I think it is fitting to honor and a way to remember the lives which were destroyed. I think it should be a more permanent installation and not just a mandala of loose particles eventually dispersed by the wind. What about an elephant statue composed of the debris molded together?