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



Meet the Author
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.