I have returned from a wonderful trip to Kenya and Tanzania just in time to view National Geographic‘s latest special: Battle for the Elephants. This is must see television for everyone who cares about the plight of elephants in particular and all coveted wildlife species in general.
Filmed in Africa (home to most of the world’s remaining wild elephant populations) and China (the world’s largest market for items carved from ivory), the hour-long special airs tomorrow night (2/27/13) on local PBS channels at 9 PM EST in the US.
The film tells the ultimate wildlife story — how the Earth’s most charismatic and majestic land animal today faces market forces driving the value of its tusks to levels once reserved for precious metals. Journalists Bryan Christy and Aidan Hartley take viewers undercover as they investigate the criminal network behind ivory’s supply and demand. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, one of the world’s main ports for smuggled ivory, Hartley poses as an ivory buyer and uses hidden cameras to film poachers negotiating the sale of large quantities of tusks. In China, Christy explores the thriving industry of luxury goods made from ivory and the ancient cultural tradition of ivory carving.
In the coming weeks, I will be sharing more about my recent trip. Everything I heard and witnessed confirms the premise of Elephants Forever; that is, the only long-term solution to poaching and the illegal ivory trade is to dry up demand for elephant products. Doing this will require multifaceted education and communications campaigns directed to markets where the demand for ivory is greatest; e.g., China and other parts of Asia. Interestingly, I encountered more Asian tourists (primarily from China) in both Kenya and Tanzania than visitors from any other parts of the world. We can only hope that this direct exposure to African wildlife will help build an informed constituency for elephants and other wildlife “back home.” And, let’s hope the tour operators for Asian visitors to Africa are not including shopping for ivory, albeit unofficially, as part of their packages. Stay tuned. . . and please watch “Battle for the Elephants.”