LAST year, I got into big trouble with my friend conservationist Paula Kahumbu.
Ahead of a big burn of elephant tusks in Kenya, I argued that it was time to explore market-based solutions to combat poaching. Selling the ivory to drive down prices, might be a wiser course than burning it, I opined.
Paula was outraged. In the end, she suggested we put the matter to the people via a debate. And so the Great Elephant Debate came to be.
Paula has put up a good conservation fight over the years, and so has honed her craft. Ahead of the debate she drew from tactics straight out of sports, trying to throw me off my game with taunts and social media jabs.
Once she asked on Twitter if I could sell my grandmother’s tooth, equating it to an elephant tusk.
For a long time after that, that question kept coming back to me. I tossed it around in my head many ways, and finally I came to a conclusion I hadn’t expected I would.
Humans are on top of the food chain, and rule over the other creatures of the world. Over the centuries we have killed billions of animals, wiping out several species, in the drive to open up farms; to lay down our roads; to build settlements and cities; to feed ourselves; for profit; and for sport.
However, when a well-aged cow is slaughtered, its meat and some of its entrails will be eaten. Its hide will turn into expensive handbags and shoes. The horn and hooves will make bracelets and wall decorations. The tail will make a fly-whisk. And the rest of its stomach contents and blood are great manure.
In many African cities the best organic manure is the soil from around abattoirs.
Yes, sometimes human organs (the heart and kidney) are harvested and used to save other people, when we die, but if you are old they are of little value.
Our teeth, in particular, are quite useless.
We are the creatures that are least beneficial to enriching the earth after our lights go out.
In life, we tower over elephants, cattle, and most animals in the wild cower and hide when they see us approaching – big guns in hand.
In death, we are worthless compared to them.
Nature really has a cruel sense of humour.
So grandma, take heart. Even I had I wanted to, I wouldn’t have sold your tooth.
I don’t think anyone would have bought it.