Changing Planet

Ivory Investigation Sparks Coverage and Inquiries in the Philippines

National Geographic’s undercover investigation into how the global religious market for ivory is a driving force in the slaughter of thousands of African elephants has prompted extensive media coverage — and calls for an official inquiry —  in the Philippines.

Bryan Christy reported in the October 2012 issue of National Geographic that he traveled to the Philippines to understand the country’s ivory trade and possibly get a lead on who was behind 5.4 tons of illegal ivory seized by customs agents in Manila in 2009, 7.7 tons seized there in 2005, and 6.1 tons bound for the Philippines seized by Taiwan in 2006. Assuming an average of 22 pounds of ivory per elephant, these seizures represent about 1,745 elephants, Christy wrote.

Christy met Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, a senior Catholic cleric and one of the best known ivory collectors in the Philippines, who told Christy that if he wanted to buy an ivory Santo Niño, a carving of the Christ child, he would have to smuggle it to get it into the U.S. “Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it,” Garcia said. “So it looks shitty with blood. This is how it is done.” International trade in elephant ivory has been banned for the last 22 years.

Read Bryan Christy’s article ‘Ivory Worship’.

The National Geographic article has not gone unnoticed in the Philippines.

“If this allegation is true, this illegal wildlife trade would be an international embarrassment for the Philippines and the Filipinos. This must stop.”

“If this allegation is true, this illegal wildlife trade would be an international embarrassment for the Philippines and the Filipinos. This must stop,” Antonio Oposa Jr., an environmental lawyer, told the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer. “We see violations of the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), Wildlife Conservation Act, Anti-Fencing Law, Customs Code and others,” he said.

Oposa said his group had asked the Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation and Department of Environment and Natural Resources to investigate the people responsible for the illegal trade in the country. “We have also asked the Interpol to conduct an investigation on the people behind this illegal wildlife syndicate. It has long been known in the international circles that the Philippines is a source, a buyer and a conduit in the illegal wildlife trade,” Oposa said.

Theresa Mundita Lim, Director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources, confirmed she received a copy of the lawyer’s request, according to the news site “We are coordinating on the matter now,” she said.

The president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Jose Palma, told the Sun Star news website “the Catholic Church does not condone killing animals to make their parts into religious items, like taking the tusks of elephants and carving these into ivory statues.” Palma is expected to make a statement about the allegations against Monsignor Garcia, who is reported by several local news media as being on sick leave.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • sinoo

    That’s what happens to all prople here who are more than likely guilty of any crime, they are tipped off by someone on the inside and suddenly take ill either fleeing the country or hiding in hospitals.

  • Ikin

    I was just wondering how Christy got these information …without using an “unethical” research method/ investigation. Probably he (Christy) provided a theme or purpose that delighted the Catholic priests to share other people and other nationalities how Filipinos in general practice their beliefs and devotion but not the “ivory” smuggling. The methods seem really anomalous. I think he also practiced “smuggling” research methods to get these information. Reading the article would clearly imply what the priests want to emphasize…not the ivory collection of course but REBIRTH, TREASURE, MERITS of FAITH AND DEVOTION. But as expected, the research DID NOT focus on that.
    With regard to the ivory smuggling issue…if we look at it on a different perspective, these priests somehow gave value to these elephants’ death by turning their valuable parts into something symbolic and socially beneficial. The FILIPINOS are united by their faith, and these elephants that were killed due to this “uncontrollable cultural means of survival” for the African hunters and traders were actually a subconscious act of giving justice and rebirth by these priests and collectors to lead and unify the Filipino Catholics through their strong faith and devotion .
    Filipinos should not be deceived again by this western perspective. Looking at the different angle and understanding the cultural diversity of religious practices and ideologies must be employed.

  • Desiree

    Ikin please do not speak for the rest of Filipinos regardless of their faith.

    Ikin, you should be ashamed of what you just said. You probably didn’t read the report. The involved priest is also a known child rapist and now the whole world knows he is an accessory to ivory smuggling. No, turning illegally traded ivory into religious icons doesn’t justify any kind of death. These elephants didn’t die naturally, they were brutally hunted by poachers, leaving them bleed and suffer and then die.

  • Vic Cruz

    Bryan Christy has been criticized for the way he handled this story. The concern for poaching elephants is the issue but the author has blown his story out of proportion. Here are some commentaries:

    Did ‘NatGeo’ man misrepresent himself?

    National Geographic and China

  • Ivo Ree

    The bottomline is what is the GOD’S VIEW of idol worship?

    Time to get your Bible and read Exodus 20:4,5.

  • Judy Maxwell

    @ikin Did you get dropped on your head or are you just ignorant? You don’t kill elephants for ivory. Then say by turning their ill gotten ivory into value for their deaths. What kind of fuzzy thinking is that? These priest that put value on death of elephants by turning their valuable parts into symbolic idols. They didn’t die from natural means. The were preyed upon by poachers and killed for their ivory, so that PREISTS can call them valuable by making symbolic and social idols out of them. Remember it says in the Bible not to take graven images. That is exactly what you and the preist have done!!!!

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