National Geographic : 2012 Oct
• while the body is wood, providing a base for lavish capes and vestments. Garcia is the leader of a group of prominent Santo Niño collectors who display their icons during the Feast of the Santo Niño in some of Cebu's best shopping malls and hotels. When they met to discuss for- mally incorporating their club, an attorney member cried out to the group, "You can pay me in ivory!" I tell Garcia I want to buy an ivory Santo Niño in a sleeping position. "Like this," I say, touching a nger to my lower lip. Garcia puts a nger to his lip too. "Dormido style," he says approvingly. My goal in meeting Garcia is to understand his country's ivory trade and possibly get a lead on who was behind . tons of illegal ivory seized by customs agents in Manila in , . tons seized there in , and . tons bound for the Philippines seized by Taiwan in . Assuming an average of pounds of ivory per elephant, these seizures represent about , elephants. According to the Convention on In- ternational Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ( ), the treaty organiza- tion that sets international wildlife trade policy, the Philippines is merely a transit country for ivory headed to China. But has limited resources. Until last year it employed just one enforcement o cer to police more than , animal and plant species. Its assessment of the Philippines doesn't square with what Jose Yuchongco, chief of the Philippine customs police, told a Manila newspaper not long a er making a major seizure in : " e Philip- pines is a favorite destination of these smuggled elephant tusks, maybe because Filipino Catho- lics are fond of images of saints that are made of ivory." On Cebu the link between ivory and the church is so strong that the word for ivory, garing, has a second meaning: "religious statue." - "Ivory, ivory, ivory," says the saleswoman at the Savelli Gallery on St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. "You didn't expect so much. I can see it in your face." e Vatican has recently demonstrat- ed a commitment to confronting transnational criminal problems, signing agreements on drug tra cking, terrorism, and organized crime. But it has not signed the treaty and so is not subject to the ivory ban. If I buy an ivory cru- ci x, the saleswoman says, the shop will have it blessed by a Vatican priest and shipped to me. Although the world has found substitutes for every one of ivory's practical uses---billiard balls, piano keys, brush handles---its religious use is frozen in amber, and its role as a political symbol persists. Last year Lebanon's President Michel Sleiman gave Pope Benedict XVI an ivory-and- gold thurible. In Philippine President Glo- ria Macapagal-Arroyo gave an ivory Santo Niño to Pope Benedict XVI. For Christmas in President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan bought an ivory Madonna originally presented to them as a state gi by Pope John Paul II. All these gi s made international headlines. Even Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi, father of the global ivory ban, once gave Pope John Paul II an elephant tusk. Moi would later make a big- ger symbolic gesture, setting re to tons of Kenyan ivory, perhaps the most iconic act in conservation history. Father Jay is curator of his archdiocese's an- nual Santo Niño exhibition, which celebrates the best of his parishioners' collections and lls a two-story building outside Manila. e more than displays are drenched in so many fresh owers and enveloped in such so "Ave Maria" music that I'm reminded of a funeral as I look at the pale bodies dressed up like tiny kings. Ivory Santo Niños wear gold-plated crowns, jewels, and Swarovski crystal necklaces. eir eyes are hand- painted on glass imported from Germany. eir eyelashes are individual goat hairs. The gold thread in their capes is real, imported from India. The elaborate displays are often owned by families of surprisingly modest means. Devotees have opened bankbooks in the names of their ivory icons. ey name them in their wills. "I don't call it extravagant," Father Jay says. "I call it an o ering to God." He surveys the child images, some of which are decorated in lagang, silvery mother of pearl owers carved from nautilus shells. "When it comes to Santo Niño devotion,"