My Story on Ivory Policing and China on National Geographic’s Voice for Elephants

009I have a new story up on A Voice for Elephants at National  It begins like this:

Chinese media reported last week that China has convicted a major ivory seller in Fujian and his accomplices for their role in an international ivory trafficking scheme that smuggled nearly eight tonnes of ivory out of Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria.

The arrest and conviction of a government-accredited ivory trader by Chinese authorities is a major law enforcement development, long overdue, and to be commended. It brings into further question, however, the decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to approve China in the first place. And it casts a further shadow over TRAFFIC, a World Wildlife Fund subsidiary hired by CITES to monitor ivory trafficking [read more]

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God’s Ivory

Getty Images Reportage has just released this amazing new video telling the elephant ivory trafficking story as encountered by photographer Brent Stirton and me during our National Geographic investigation of the ivory trade.

Here for the first time you can see just how deeply religion and ivory are bound together.  For me, the discovery of religion as a driver of the international ivory trade was shocking.  Religious followers in key countries are fueling the killing of elephants and the humans who protect them.  This story is also shocking because it implicitly exposes just how poor law enforcement has been when it comes to the international ivory trade, among the world’s best policed categories of illegal wildlife trade.  The illegal ivory trade is a multi-billion dollar industry, and not one true international kingpin has ever been identified.  Not one, not ever.

Religion is a consumer kingpin but its criminal leaders remain faceless, as do the leaders in China and Africa who run the broader illegal ivory trade.  Exposing religion as one common driver opens a hopeful possibility that change can happen, but it will take leadership.

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ABSCAM: An Oldie But a Goodie for Wildlife Watchers to Relax By

Lot’s of people are writing me depressed about the state of affairs for wildlife in Africa, especially after CITES COP16.  I don’t know about you but when I get down about widespread incompetence, lack of political will, and detective work any elementary school kid with a MacBook Pro could outperform, I sit back and relax with old organized crime stories.  Here’s a classic that always makes me smile….

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Papal Palace Video Exposes Ivory Use

On a day when the world is learning that yet again a massive slaughter of elephants has taken place, this time of 89 elephants in Chad, many of which aborted upon being shot, I am struck by this video from ABC news which takes us inside the Vatican Pope Francis now calls home.  At minute 1.15 we see what appears to be an ivory crucifix on the desk of Pope Benedict and at 1:53 we see two large elephant tusks on the back wall of a conference room.  What is the message to those who share this space?  Spiritual leaders have begun to recognize the cost in human lives and morals of the ivory trade.  Three weeks ago I did an interview on the ivory trade with Vatican Radio.  That show has yet to air.  It is insignificant, however, next to the possibility of a leader who need ask no deeper question than this:  What would St. Francis do?

“I have never heard or even read a word that would encourage the use of ivory for devotional objects,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi wrote National Geographic after letters from readers of Ivory Worship poured in to it.  When it comes to religion it is the seen as well as the read, the believed as well as the heard, that makes all the difference for life.

Father Lombardi also said this:  “I believe that the most important and most urgent action is that of raising the awareness of the Christian communities in the countries affected by the most serious phenomena so that they might act together with those in charge and with the other members of the civil communities in which they live in order to deal decisively with these very serious problems. This must be done, if possible, in collaboration between the followers of different Christian confessions or other religions. In fact, it is a serious problem that Christians can and should unite against….”

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