It always starts with a crazy idea, doesn’t it? Let’s quit our jobs. Then say goodbye to the comforts of home finding new horizons to experience each passing day. It’s a common enough story, but the path chosen do to achieve it might be the most interesting detail. The amount of self-inflicted hardship folded into the equation speaks volumes about the constitution of the traveler.
“And you can smell it; it’s almost like dried blood. There is the smell of death in here. All of these are confiscated trophies.” Reports investigative journalist, Aidan Hartley. We’ve just been given exclusive access to an astonishingly vast warehouse of government owned ivory in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
For our series finale, Aidan meets with Khamis Kagasheki, minister of natural resources in Tanzania, which stores the world’s largest stockpile of elephant tusks in the world — 90 metric tons. Kagasheki agrees to allow us to take the first-ever footage of the vast warehouse that stores thousands of tusks, valued at $50 million.
According to Bryan Christy, these two sales gave cover to ivory smugglers in China, and the underground market exploded. According to CITES, 25,000 elephants were killed in Africa last year, though other observers say it could be many more. In Tanzania alone, poachers kill 30 elephants a day. The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates that 84 percent of the ivory sold in China is illegal.
Since the opening up of the Chinese market and the growth of its economy, ivory, once a precious material available only to the ruling elite, has become increasingly available to the growing Chinese middle class.
A luxury goods store in Beijing allowed our cameras into their showroom where Christy explains how those auctions complicate what’s for sale legally and what’s not.
Through a taxing series of twists and turns, I find myself on assignment in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, about to go undercover with Aidan Hartley. Hartley is a seasoned war correspondent and investigative journalist, and no greenhorn when it comes putting his life on the line to get a story.
Our goal is time sensitive and dangerous: capture video of criminal ivory traders selling poached ivory. Once embedded, we have just a 3-day window to operate in the city; we fear pushing our investigation further could trigger the slaughter of more elephants.
With just seven days remaining before Bryan Christy’s Blood Ivory article hits the newsstands, we’re down to the wire. A complete story is within our grasp, but it’s uncomfortably obvious that we don’t yet have enough. Our legal team insists that we remove ourselves from the field before “Blood Ivory” is released. Sensing the pressure, the reality is that we either deliver now or come up short.
Anticipating the scramble, we had split into two teams. I’m on the ground in Dar es Salaam posing as an ivory buyer with Aidan Hartley. Our goal is simple: capture the bad guys on film, red handed. Our second team is in China, their objective is much more complex: explore the driving forces behind the growing demand for ivory.
According to CITES experts, more than 25,000 elephants—an estimated 12 percent of the world’s elephant population—were killed in Africa last year alone, and some say the numbers could be much higher.
In a new Web series, National Geographic filmmakers share their experiences documenting the illegal ivory trade. Follow journalists Bryan Christy and Aidan Hartley as we go undercover and inside the criminal network behind ivory’s supply and demand.