Op-Ed | Discontinue the use of disconnected tusks logo
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 07:09
I am an alumnus writing to express concern about one of Tufts’ athletic logos, which I saw for the first time upon moving back to Medford last month. The graphic in question features elephant tusks wrapping around the letter “T.” I’ve seen this logo emblazoned on the Medford tennis court screens, the football and track stadium scoreboards and on merchandise in the campus bookstore. Additionally, a Google image search for “Tufts Jumbo” or “Tufts Logo,” returns this image as one of the top results.
Elephant tusks have for millennia been coveted as a valuable source of ivory, culminating in the threat of elephant extinction in the 20th and 21st centuries. While preservation and protection efforts spurred by the impending loss of this magnificent animal were effective at slowing the rate of destruction for much of the last few decades, that trend is now in rapid reverse.
As the New York Times, Time, the BBC and the Economist have reported, the rate of slaughter of elephants for their tusks has increased significantly in recent years. In Africa in 2011, an estimated 2,500 elephants were killed for their tusks. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, reported in June that poaching poses an “immediate threat” to elephant populations across the African continent, as well as in Asia. The predictions by CITES and others of a bloody 2012 for elephants have been proven accurate: thousands of elephants have been slaughtered this year already by a mix of clandestine military personnel, impoverished villagers and subsistence hunters, according to The New York Times.
Because tusk sales are extremely lucrative, any campaign to protect elephants from slaughter becomes enormously challenging. The powerful market demand at work can seem an impossible obstacle to overcome. Any such conservation campaign must necessarily involve not just legal sanctions or armed protection of elephant habitats, but also cultural and educational efforts to change humanity’s conscious and unconscious feelings about the morality of poaching and about the consumption of ivory products. While CITES itself is a testament to a widely shared international belief that certain species should be protected from destruction by humans, this convention, like the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Geneva Conventions, must be effectuated at the state level by a combination of national, multilateral, NGO, community and individual actors.
Which brings me back to Jumbo. I suspect that Tufts University chose Jumbo as its mascot not only because the elephant is a powerful, playful and intelligent animal, nor solely due to Jumbo’s connection to a member of the first Tufts board of trustees, PT Barnum, who owned the elephant. I suspect that Jumbo was chosen as a symbolic totem largely in recognition of the elephant’s reputed selfless sacrifice in the protection of a weak and vulnerable individual. As PT Barnum’s tale goes, Jumbo saved another elephant from being struck by a train, but in so doing was himself struck and killed by the train.
In the spirit of Jumbo’s example of protecting those who cannot protect themselves, I propose that Tufts should desist from using any logo, which incorporates tusks separated from an elephant’s body.
Apart from the ethical case connected to elephant poaching that I’ve outlined above, it could be argued that tusks only represent strength and physical prowess when they are connected to a living elephant. A tusk removed from an elephant’s body is a lifeless object, which bespeaks defanging, defeat and death. A tusk alone is therefore a poor emblem for a sports team or a school, either of which seek to be full of life, possessed of agency and strength.
By ending the use of this particular logo, Tufts could send a powerful signal that elephant ivory poaching – and by extension all poaching – is ethically wrong. The case for our leadership on this matter is particularly apt in light of the strong reputation of Tufts’ veterinary, medical and international affairs programs. Tufts could use the occasion of the jettisoning of the logo as a media event to draw attention to the plight of elephant populations threatened by poaching.
I realize that this proposal may be rejected as unreasonable or preposterous by some members of the Tufts community, and that some – perhaps especially those connected with campus athletics – may take it as an affront. Let me assure those individuals that no slight is intended. Nor am I suggesting that there was any malicious or willful intent when selecting a logo that featured elephant tusks. The logo is certainly distinctive and represents a strong design aesthetic. However, given the ongoing crisis facing elephants worldwide, I believe that Tufts should take a symbolic stand against illegal elephant ivory poaching by ceasing the use of the logo in question.