Battle for the Elephants (Ep. 2): Criminal Traders Exposed

Aidan Hartley poses next to a giant confiscated tusk in Dar es Salaam government ivory room.
Aidan Hartley poses next to a giant confiscated tusk in Dar es Salaam / J.J. Kelley for National Geographic Television

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.

Complete figures are not yet available for 2012, but TRAFFIC reports “17 large-scale ivory seizures in 2011 alone—more than double the highest previous figure of eight seizures in 2009, and totaling an estimated 26.4 tonnes of ivory.”

While a second film team attempts to capture the demand for ivory in China, we are scouting one of the world’s main ports for smuggled ivory, acutely aware that our lives could be on the line. As the events play out, we’re forced to decide whether to follow the sellers on their terms or abort the mission.

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Aidan Hartley meets with an undercover informant before posing as an ivory buyer.
Aidan Hartley meets with an undercover informant before posing as an ivory buyer / J.J. Kelley for National Geographic Television

 

Human Journey

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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.