Ivory's status as a luxury item and its unique properties as a carving material make it difficult to replace, according to George Wittemeyer of Colorado State University and co-author of an article in Nature which discussed how rising prices for ivory are endangering Africa's elephants.
"Substitutes supposedly do not have the integrity of true ivory," Wittemeyer said. "Part of this has to do the growth pattern of ivory, called Schreger lines, which facilitates carving at any angle. So it seems the uniqueness of the material as a carving substrate, its beauty and its historic significance in terms of a rarity and prestige all contribute to the demand."
Mammoth ivory, from the extinct pachyderms of the north, is available as a replacement for ivory from living species. Unfortunately, the color and density of mammoth ivory don't match that of elephant ivory, noted Wittemeyer.
Even flooding the market with fake ivory would not help to reduce pressure on living elephants, Wittemeyer said. The prestige and appearance of the real article make consumers demand genuine ivory.