Battle for the Elephants (Ep. 4): Massive Ivory Stockpile

And you can smell it; it’s almost like dried blood. There is the smell of death in here. All of these are confiscated trophies,” reports investigative journalist Aidan Hartley. We’ve just been given exclusive access to an astonishingly vast warehouse of government owned ivory in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

For our series finale, Aidan meets with Khamis Kagasheki, minister of natural resources in Tanzania, which stores the world’s largest stockpile of elephant tusks in the world — 90 metric tons. Kagasheki agrees to allow us to take the first-ever footage of the vast warehouse that stores thousands of tusks, valued at $50 million.

Unlike Kenya, Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in the world, has not agreed to burn its stockpile, arguing that the money from a sale could support conservation efforts. An official told us that if an international agency were to buy the tusks with the intention of burning them, they would eagerly sell them. But who would support such an idea?

Many in Tanzania would like to sell the ivory inside the warehouse – it would bring millions of dollars to a desperately poor nation. Others worry that another sale would just drive demand for ivory higher, and that would lead to more poaching. One thing is clear, perhaps the final battle for the elephants is being fought right now.


Watch “Battle for the Elephants” on PBS

Massive Ivory Stockpile in Dar es Salaam
Aidan Hartley is given rare access to a massive ivory stockpile in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania / J.J. Kelley for National Geographic Television
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.
  • Ann Delisser

    Please will some bright mind devise an Internet Campaign to end the DEMAND for ivory at its source? The Social Media has immense power to change ideas rapidly, so let us put it to work for the Elephants NOW. Time is short.

  • Muzzafar Khan

    Since all the elephants whose tusks are piled up in the warehouse lost their lives at the hands of ruthless poachers and their senseless clients,we must accept the fact that the killing of those hundreds of Elephants has caused enormous loss to our most valuable natural resource and inflicted pain to wild life lovers. If the proceeds from the ivory sales can be placed in an endowment fund to be managed by the various stake holders involved in conservation activities,then we should perhaps give it a serious thought. Social media is already helping create awareness and by all means it should be used as a tool to further the cause of conservation work including bringing pressure on Governments to do more to curb this scourge.

  • Cindy Lott

    Battle for the Elephants was one of the most powerful, disturbing shows I have ever seen. I agree with Ms. Delisser’s comment: Social Media can be an incredibly effective tool for spreading awareness. What sort of grassroots campaign could be implemented to target the hearts and minds of people in China? And soon? At the very least, this Nat’l Geo documentary should be translated into Mandarin and then broadcast in all of China. No doubt, Chinese censorship rules out that avenue. I hope that, with enough continuous attention focused on this issue, it will become politically, financially, and ethically undesirable for the Chinese government and people to continue on the current disastrous course.

  • Eliot W. Collins

    I would have expected that the Chinese would start raising their own elephants on factory farms in order to have a continuing supply of high quality ivory.

    Yes, I know that the elephants on these farms would not care for this, but realistically, it might be the best that can be done for the survival of their species.

  • Angela Mirro

    All ivory should be banned period! With their dwindling population, the elephant’s right to life outweighs the craft of ivory carving and possession. In this 21st Century, the world needs to pressure and challenge the artists and craftspeople to invent a more humane, modern, non animal material for their carvings. And the consumer needs to respect and embrace this.

  • Chris Regan

    It was sickening to see whole factories dedicated to ivory carving. Every piece of ivory represents murder, theft, and the destruction of elephant families. There can be no beauty in such an object. It is time for those who pay money for ivory to consider the ramifications of their choices.

  • Marie Valenziano

    When are poachers going to wake up and stop all the greed.
    Don’t we have any feelings left for these beautiful creatures. Where can they hide?

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