Battle for the Elephants: Web Series Intro

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.

One of the film's producers, J.J. Kelley captures Soila Sayialel at Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
One of the film’s producers, J.J. Kelley (right), films Soila Sayialel (left) at Amboseli National Park, Kenya. / John Heminway for National Geographic Television

As a producer on the upcoming PBS Special, Battle for the Elephants, I was part of an international team that went undercover to investigate the illegal ivory trade. Our team knew early on that we had to take a holistic approach to documenting this story. The ivory trade—and it’s devastating impact on elephant populations—doesn’t just come down to “evil” poachers in Africa killing elephants without regard, nor is it merely a lust for ivory in Asia. Poachers and consumers are major factors, of course, but the problem is much more historically rooted and complex. After all, Western cultures caused similar devastation to the elephant population due to an intense desire for billiard balls, piano keys, and combs; a desire so insatiable that by 1913, the United States was consuming 200 tons of ivory a year.

For these reasons, we divided our team to gather as many perspectives as we could pack into our six-week production window. After ten-weeks of editing, what emerged is a highly contentious issue that needs even more attention than we estimated at the onset. The startling truth is, if we do not do something now, there is a a very real chance future generations will not see elephants in the wild.

Tune in right here at A Voice for the Elephants as we explore what may be the final battle for the elephants.


Watch “Battle for the Elephants” on PBS

Battle for the Elephants

J.J. Kelley is an Emmy nominated filmmaker and adventurer focusing on issues of conservation and wildlife crime. A producer and director of photography at National Geographic, Kelley’s work has appeared on The National Geographic Channel, NOVA, The New York Times, Outside Television and PBS. He is also the co-creator of the adventure production company, Dudes on Media. In addition to winning over 40 film festival awards including, Paddler Magazine called his Emmy nominated second film, "Paddle to Seattle" “the best feature film about paddling produced in the past decade.” Kelley is an Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker, biked across Alaska, kayaked from Alaska to Seattle, and traveled the length of The River Ganges. He regularly stops in the studios as a guest on National Geographic Weekend and recently starred in a television commercial for Nature Valley.
  • Linda Bronfman

    I hope this show has an impact, time is running out for elephants.

    will this show be aired in canada?
    when will it be available for sale?

    • Thank you, Linda! I absolutely agree that the window to save the elephant in the wild is getting smaller and smaller.

      We’re hoping for a CA broadcast, but DVDs will be sold worldwide after the program’s Feb. 27, PBS premier at http://www.pbs.org/programs/battle-elephants/

  • Tory Braden

    China must stop the carving shops & raids the stores. The gov’t stopped foot binding overnight, they could do the same with the carvers if they had the will. The carvers are the smallest link in the chain and thus the easiest to control. No carving = nothing to sell = nothing to buy = no demand = no poaching. There are enough ivory statues and trinkets to sell for years. The carvers must be stopped now.

    This is not to mention that the govt’s of African must realize there will be no tourism industry once the animals are gone and they are going, going, gone.


  • Marion Bennett

    This is so sad, it would be a tragedy to loose the elephant from our planet, I hope this show, gets through to the people, and makes them realise what they are doing. All ivory trade needs to be stopped now, before it is too late.

  • Tanja Gallist – for Blood Ivory

    I would like to invite all those interested to use our new FB-Site Blood Ivory: https://www.facebook.com/BloodIvory?ref=hl. This new site is intended to accumulate all relevant current data, inform the public and generate awareness. I have found that trying to keep up with the various posts and news on this subject is difficult and I have therefore created this one site where all information can be found and accumulated. Please spread the word.

  • jacques

    how can a people not understand that elephants need to be part of this world.To stop ivory trade simple solution: stop buying gems from thailand .jewelry is made in thailand.
    jtv is the largest buyer of Thai jewelry

    ‘ all gems, thailand is the largest
    manifactoring of jewelery that we wear

  • G.Lambert

    When do we get to see this program in Australia?

    We really need the awareness to build here as the ‘tyranny of distance’ really manifests itself, in the lack of peoples’ knowledge, especially when you hear comments/remarks at the elephant’s exhibits in zoos.

    Please do all you can to broadcast this & other awareness building programs in our country.

  • Ann Delisser

    Is there someone out there who can devise an Internet Campaign to stop the DEMAND for ivory at its source?
    The Social Media has immense power to change ideas very rapidly. Time is something elephant populations do not have, so why not let the Internet work for Conservation NOW?

  • https://greenerlivingstore.com

    That looks like it will be quite the series. It is amazing the amount of ivory that is seized every year.

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    When I saw this web page having remarkable quality YouTube video lessons, I decided to watch out these all video clips.

  • micro jobs

    Some genuinely fantastic posts on this site, thanks for contribution. “I finally understand what distinguishes guy from other beasts financial worries. Journals” by Jules Renard.

  • Christopher von Haunalter

    Theres something wrong with the Chinese government; greed, denial, and no heart to speak of in terms of respect for animals (among other things). Nationalistic selfishness akin to shark fin soup in Japan or the regional dolphin kills; the outdated rationale is that ivory carving is a 2000 year old tradition and therefore still culturally necessary. Even some Buddhist’s are hollow in believing the elephant happily sacrifices their tusks for said religion. Its 2013, time to topple the economic towers of unnecessary slaughter. Theres $50 million in Tanzanian stockpiled ivory; questions of what to do with it—- some call for a symbolic burning of it all. I almost think they should just sell it all to China and declare it the absolute last hoorah, in direct concert with a worldwide ivory trade ban; simply no more elephant kills. Use the money for further conservation and trained protection against residual poachings. Any chance the Chinese can use the last supply wisely, and gracefully bow their heads to something other than monetary inclinations?

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