Elephants are the biggest mammals on the planet, but despite their humongous size, their future is looking bleak. In Central Africa, for instance, their population has dropped 64 percent in the last decade. At the rate this is going, experts worry that the giants could be extinct in just a few years.
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National Geographic’s Bryan Christy wanted to look into the elephant deaths, most of which are caused by the illegal ivory trade. However, because he can’t just waltz into the black market to ask, he decided to be sneaky about it and embedded fake tusks with GPS tracking devices.
The fake tusks are of high quality, made by the “Michaelangelo of taxidermy,” George Dante, who lived up to his name by creating tusks that looked, felt, and even sounded like the real thing.
These tusks were put to the test at an airport in Tanzania, where they passed with flying colors when Christy was detained for suspicion of smuggling. He was let go when he explained to the authorities his plan.
Elephant poaching is apparently the least of the problems, however, as the GPS tracking devices revealed horrifying new details about the smuggling problem.
Christy thought the tusks would track back toward China, the world’s top buyer of illegal ivory and where ivory chopsticks can sell for over a thousand dollars, while carved tusks go for prices skyrocketing to hundreds of thousands.
However, he tracked the tusks signals to travel north into the terrorist-controlled regions of Sudan.
Christy shared, “In central Africa, as I learned firsthand, something more sinister is driving the killing: Militias and terrorist groups funded in part by ivory are poaching elephants, often outside their home countries, and even hiding inside national parks. They’re looting communities, enslaving people, and killing park rangers who get in their way.”
This means that the ivory trade is not only leaving behind elephant carcasses, it also funds violence led by terrorists.
Terrorist warlords like Joseph Kony, for instance, who is known for doing some pretty terrifying things, is also involved.. The leader of the Uganda-born Lord’s Resistance Army is benefiting from illegal ivory.
Saving elephants has always been important, but the investigation showed that there is more to it than the lives of animals—humans are also at stake.
National Geographic’s documentary on the illegal ivory trade is titled Explorer: Warlords of Ivory, which you should not miss.