Changing Planet

Video: Ivory Trade and Slave Trade Linked Throughout History

The trade in elephant ivory dates at least back to the days of the slave trade in Africa.

Investigative Journalist Bryan Christy visits the home of renowned 19th Century slave trader and ivory merchant Tippu Tip in Zanzibar. “Throughout history, human trafficking and ivory trafficking have been linked,” Christy says in this outtake from the National Geographic Explorer show “Warlords of Ivory.”

Zanzibar ivory 1
Photograph courtesy of Ivoryton Library Association

“This is an extraordinary moment for me,” Christy says. “This is the house of a man named Tippu Tip, an Arab slave trader and ivory trader operating just 150 years ago here in Zanzibar. One of the biggest ivory traders in the world, one of the biggest slave traders in the world, this man was a terrorist. This man trafficked tens of thousands of human beings through this building every year.”

Zanzibar ivory 2
A group of men sit atop a pile of ivory tusks, Zanzibar, early 1900s. Photograph by Carl E. Akely/National Geographic Creative.

Tippu Tip trafficked ivory no longer seen today, tusks that took four people to carry, Christy notes. “Those elephants are gone.”

“We don’t call it slave trade, any more; we call it human trafficking,” Christy says. “We call it ivory trafficking. And it still exists today. History has repeated itself. The same places where this man brought slaves and ivory out of Africa is now under siege by rebel groups, by terrorists, by ivory traffickers.”

More About the Investigation

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media