Talking Ivory Crime on FRESH AIR w Terry Gross

The slaughter of African elephants is a wildlife story. But it’s also a crime story. –Terry Gross

I’ve gotten huge response to my NPR interview with Terry Gross this week. Terry got straight to the heart of the matter, bringing an important, fresh perspective to this issue.

IVORY: A Crime Story

My latest piece for National Geographic, Tracking Ivory, is the cover of the magazine’s September issue and the subject of WARLORDS OF IVORY, the premiere episode of National Geographic’s Explorer series, airing August 30, 2015 on the National Geographic Channel.

Here’s a link to the online version of the magazine story which is part of an incredible package of photographs, interactive maps, videos, and surveys about the ivory trade, terrorism, and ivory consumption.

ngm_september_2015_cvr

This project is the result of work by an extraordinary team across multiple National Geographic platforms, including Photographer Brent Stirton; Filmmakers J.J. Kelley, John Heminway, Toby Strong, Pablo Durana, Jessica Harrop, Josh Thomas; Map Genius Virginia Mason, and more. Click on the links for these people and you’ll see the Mission Impossible team behind the stories.

US Ivory Crush: Call to the World

Earlier this week the United States government destroyed its national ivory stockpile, nearly six tons of elephant ivory, representing the majority of ivory seized from American tourists and traffickers since the late 1980s.

My take, pre- and post-event for National Geographic, is available here:

National Geographic’s short film on the Ivory Crush:

Philippines Ivory Crush: Call to the United States

Friday, June 21, the Philippines became the first country outside of Africa to destroy ivory seized by its law enforcement.  I wrote about it for National Geographic here: In Global First, Philippines to Destroy its Ivory Stock and here: Pulling Teeth.

Philippines Ivory Crush Banner

The United States opposes the international ivory trade but its decades-old stockpiles of seized ivory gather in official places like the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Colorado repository and unofficially in places like its Philadelphia office.  Why? 

At the destruction ceremony in Quezon City I listened to one of Africa’s leading law enforcement officials, Bonaventure Ebayi, say he hoped this was the beginning, that other countries would now join the Philippines in its stand against the illegal ivory trade.

I’ve received countless emails asking what a person who cares about the future of the African elephant can do to help.  To many I’ve responded that there’s nothing you can do. You’re an American.  Our laws ban international ivory trade and they’re reasonably enforced.  But there is something you can do.  You can insist the US join the Philippines, which could not by any measure afford to waste >6.5 million bucks. Unless it cared.

Philippines Ivory Crush Backhoe

As Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje made clear, the Philippine people he represents did not see the ivory as a financial opportunity. They saw it as the proceeds of a crime to be destroyed.

Many without a sense of the poor state of international law enforcement when it comes to trafficked species such as elephants and rhinos complain that any seized ivory or horn should be sold. The animals are dead they say, Why not profit?  Why not put the money to law enforcement even?

But money from these materials disappears like blood on sand.  The illegal ivory trade is at least a $50 million a year business and since the ivory ban was put into place in 1990 not one kingpin has ever been identified.  China recently prosecuted a significant trafficker, but it is clear that the biggest players operate freely.  In that environment, expanding the ivory trade feeds crime.  Whatever the wild species–turtles, pangolins, elephants, rhinos, tigers–there just aren’t enough rare animals on earth to satisfy China.  It’s growing too quickly.

Legal ivory fed to China expanded that country’s appetite.  After the 2008 CITES-approved “one time” auction of 102 tons of ivory to Japan and China,  the Chinese government built the world’s largest ivory carving factory.  It began training college students to take up the trade. The goal was to process the ivory and to be ready for more, to be ready for an ivory consuming future.  China wants more ivory and every bit fed to its system causes that industry to grow, fueling poaching, killing elephants, murdering rangers.  China’s economic growth outpaces the natural death of elephants and in the breach is murder, corruption, and one day, extinction.  In an ideal world that wouldn’t be the case.  But this isn’t an ideal world.  It’s the one we have.

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 Geographic.com.  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]