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.


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.

CITES’ Ivory Trade Policy is on Drugs

By far the most dangerous threat now facing the African elephant is not poachers or Chinese ivory carvers, it is CITES’ rulemaking.  CITES is indispensible to the protection of wildife around the world, but for elephants the high dollar values, insignicant enforcement, and government corruption make the ivory trade unlike nearly any other animal product traded in the world.

As described in this National Geographic blog post, we used narcotics as a surrogate in designing and implementing our Blood Ivory story investigation.  Once you see the ivory trade through the prism of illegal drugs, you can understand the absurdity of the way ivory is regulated by CITES, and the danger of proposals now on the table.

The world would never leave policing of the narcotics trade to botanists even though cocaine and heroin are plant products, but we do leave wildlife trafficking to biologists (and economists), and that is a big part of the problem. CITES Secretary General John Scanlon is absolutely correct that we need to employ the same approach to wildlife crime that we do to drug trafficking.  That should not be news, but it is.

‘Persona Non Grata’ Can Be Gratifying

After two weeks of my being savaged by the Archdiocese of Cebu for Blood Ivory: Ivory Worship, culminating (so far) in a suggestion by the country’s Cardinal Ricardo Vidal that I be deemed “persona non grata” and permanently expelled from the Philippines (a designation normally reserved to diplomats and the like) it is extremely gratifying to see comments like these rolling in from Filipino citizens on sites such as

I’ve published a response to the Archdiocese and to Archbishop Jose S. Palma here, which applies as well to his predecessor, Cardinal Vidal.