Battle for the Elephants (Ep. 3): The China Ivory Market

A curious juvenile elephant comes to inspect our camera crew / J.J. Kelley for National Geographic Television
A curious juvenile elephant comes to inspect our camera crew / J.J. Kelley for National Geographic Television

Our investigation is revealing insights into why elephant numbers are falling to lower levels than ever recorded. An international ban on trading ivory has been in place since 1989. Since then, the body that governs the trade, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), has allowed two large auctions of stockpiled ivory.

According to Bryan Christy, these two sales gave cover to ivory smugglers in China, and the underground market exploded. According to CITES, 25,000 elephants were killed in Africa last year, though other observers say it could be many more. In Tanzania alone, poachers kill 30 elephants a day. The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates that 84 percent of the ivory sold in China is illegal.

Since the opening up of the Chinese market and the growth of its economy, ivory, once a precious material available only to the ruling elite, has become increasingly available to the growing Chinese middle class.

A luxury goods store in Beijing allowed our cameras into their showroom where Christy explains how those auctions complicate what’s for sale legally and what’s not.

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Bryan Christy visits a high end retailer in Hong Kong to investigate the legal ivory market.
Bryan Christy visits a high end retailer in Hong Kong to investigate the legal ivory market / John Heminway for National Geographic Television

 

 

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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.