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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Encore: Planet In Peril: Battle Lines
Aired December 14, 2008 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST (voice-over): It is, at its core, a simple equation of supply and demand. The human population will rise by 50 percent in the next 40 years and already many of the natural resources that sustain us are nearly gone.
Conflict is inevitable. The battle lines are drawn.
This is an investigation into battles over the world's natural resources.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't touch the camera, buddy.
COOPER: Flash points around the globe that offer a glimpse into our future -- how the fight for food could lead to the next deadly pandemic.
DR. NATHAN WOLFE, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Things will turn to the human population and they'll spread globally.
COOPER: Where the thirst for oil has touched off a deadly guerrilla war.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The battle we are waging is the battle for our lives.
COOPER: How one of the most feared and threatened creatures on the planet is caught in a human struggle.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shark!
COOPER (on camera): I see. It's so close. It's...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
COOPER: I've never seen anything like it.
(voice-over): And where the air kids breathe is poisonous.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Make no mistake -- it's making people very sick.
COOPER: This is a planet in conflict. This is a "Planet In Peril".
(END VIDEO TAPE) COOPER: Welcome to "Planet In Peril: Battle Lines."
I'm Anderson Cooper.
We begin our journey here in Central Africa, where rising food prices and a rapidly growing population are pushing people deeper and deeper into previously untouched forests. They're just trying to make a living, of course -- clearing land, hunting for food. The problem is not only are they threatening fragile habitats and wiping out animal populations at an alarming rate, they're also exposing themselves to potentially deadly viruses -- viruses which, once unleashed in humans, can quickly spread around the world.
These forests may seem remote, but what's happening here now affects us all.
WOLFE: We're just tapping the surface. We've got the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our knowledge of the different viruses that are out there.
COOPER: January 2008. Rising food prices touch off riots around the world. In Haiti, 10 people died. In Cameroon, 20 are killed. Unable to afford basic supplies, people increasingly turn to the forests for food.
June 2008. Deep in a remote region of Cameroon, two hunters stalk their prey.
COOPER: Their names are Patrice (ph) and Peti (ph). They're searching for bush meat -- forest animals they can kill to feed their families.
(on camera): Patrice (ph) and Peti (ph) set out most days to go out hunting in the forests around their homes. They have a series of traps -- of snares that they've set up and they'll catch wild pigs, snakes, monkeys, rodents -- anything they can, really.
(voice-over): Patrice (ph) and Peti (ph) been out for hours, but found nothing. The animals are simply gone.
Not too far away, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with another hunter. But he, too, is finding his traps empty.
GUPTA: It really gives you an idea of just how hard it is to actually get even a little bit of food. Dittie (ph), who's trying to provide enough food for nine people tonight -- he doesn't really care what he gets at this point, as long as he gets something. And I can tell you, we've still got a long ways to go. It is hot. It is humid. It is a lot of work.
COOPER: Hunters have to keep going deeper into the forest, but that is where hidden danger lurks. Forest animals are a reservoir of viruses -- microscopic pathogens given in the animals' blood. Some are harmless, but some are potentially deadly when passed to humans.
WOLFE: Individuals have been infected with these viruses forever. What's changed, though, is in the past, you had smaller human populations. Viruses would infect them and possibly go extinct. Viruses actually need population density as fuel.
COOPER: Dr. Nathan Wolfe is a world-renowned epidemiologist -- a virus hunter. He works in these forests tracking what are called zoonotic viruses -- ones that can jump from animals to humans. Its the zoonotic viruses that scientists think could trigger the next pandemic.
WOLFE: When I look around in this forest, part of -- part of what I'm thinking is what's the diversity of viruses out there?
COOPER: It may sound far-fetched, but it's already happened. HIV is the deadliest example.
(on camera): It was in a forest not too far from here, in Southern Cameroon, that scientists now believe HIV was born. They say it started with a chimpanzee infected by several strains of viruses from eating smaller monkeys. An infected chimp's blood then must have come in contact with the blood of a human being -- most likely, say scientists, a hunter or someone cutting up the chimp for cooking.
That simple, seemingly insignificant transmission, set off a global epidemic -- a pandemic that so far has killed tens of millions of people.
(voice-over): Scientists now believe HIV crossed into humans in the early 1900s. But it wasn't until air travel increased that it spread and became a global epidemic in the 1980s.
(on camera): Is it inevitable that there will be another pandemic of some virus like HIV?
WOLFE: Yes. The human population is -- is going to have pandemics. That's just the nature of how we operate now. We are so profoundly interconnected that it will be the case that things will enter into the human population and they'll spread globally.
COOPER (voice-over): HIV may be the most well-known virus to cross over from animal to a human, but there are many others -- and many we don't even know about. That's why Wolfe has created what he calls a Global Viral Forecasting Initiative -- a kind of early warning system in virus hot spots around the world to track the transmission of viruses.
He's worked in Cameroon for nearly a decade monitoring hunters and those who butcher bush meat -- both activities where human and animal blood are constantly in contact.
Dr. Wolfe likens his work to the way an intelligence service tracks threats made by potential terrorists -- if he can track what viruses are crossing into humans, what he calls the viral chatter, he hopes to stop the next virus before it spreads. WOLFE: Each one of those species of animals has their own sort of repertoire of difference organisms -- viruses, parasites, bacteria. And any time that humans are in contact with those animals, there's going to be the possibility for the jump-overs. And that's what we're kind of considering this sort of chatter -- this pinging, if you will, of viruses from these animals into the human population. And most of the times, the ping just bounces back. But every once in a while, it sticks.
COOPER: It's sticking more often. The National Academy of Sciences says 75 percent of the world's emerging diseases jump over from animals.
Five years ago, the SARS virus crossed from civet cats in Asia to infect thousands and kill more than 700 people in more than 20 countries.
Avian flu jumped over from birds in 2003 and killed more than 200 people.
The origins of many other zoonotic viruses are still unknown.
Ebola has killed hundreds over the past decade, but its exact origins remain a mystery.
If scientists don't know where a disease starts, it usually means it can't be stopped.
It's been hours in the forest for both our teams chasing prey that seems to vanish. We stop for a drink of water. Then, there's a rustle in the brush. The group of hunters approach -- their packs loaded with wild game.
(on camera): There's at least three viruses that you know about which are in this particular monkey.
WOLFE: This species, yes. And there's many, many more pathogens that are present in these animals.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
COOPER (voice-over): In the forests of Cameroon, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and I have split up. We're both following men hunting for animals or bush meat.
(on camera): Patrice (ph) and Peti (ph), the two hunters we've been with for the last couple of hours, haven't been able to find any game today. They've been unlucky. But we did come across this group of hunters who have several packs full of animals that they've caught.
WOLFE: This monkey, potentially, is infected with retroviruses. COOPER (voice-over): But virus hunter Dr. Nathan Wolfe is concerned about what unknown viruses these animals might carry -- viruses that could make their way into human population, touching off a pandemic.
(on camera): There is at least three viruses that you know about which are in this particular monkey?
WOLFE: This species, yes. Yes. I mean there's many, many, many more pathogens that are present in these animals. These individuals are at specific risk -- particularly, you know, depending on the level of contact. If there's blood contact, they're at risk for transmission and possibly infection with novel viruses.
COOPER (voice-over): As the hunters display their kills, something surprising happens. They show us filter paper they've used to collect the animals' blood. The blood will be tested for zoonotic viruses -- part of a program Dr. Wolfe has spent years setting up.
(on camera): Does it surprise you that -- I mean we've run into two groups of hunters out here and they're all carrying the filter paper that you have been teaching them about?
WOLFE: Yes. No, I mean, from our perspective, that's -- it's a good indication of the coverage we have.
So this is from this animal right here -- a Greater Spot-Nosed Guenon. These individuals -- every person who has one of those filter papers has had, at least at a minimum -- been through our basic health education about the risks associated with these activities, which, presumably, from our perspective, gives them the ability to decrease their own risk and then, obviously, the risk to their families, the village, the country and the world.
COOPER (voice-over): Once bush meat is taken out of the forest, you can find it for sale everywhere. On the side of the road, there's pangolin for sale, snakes, monkeys and markets selling bush meat are packed with people.
GUPTA: And would you check the blood of these monkeys at all?
COOPER: Dr. Wolfe estimates 4.5 million tons of bush meat are taken from Central Africa's forests every year. A task force of leading conservation groups says the bush meat trade is the single biggest threat to Africa's animal species. And that's making it more of a threat to humans.
WOLFE: Contact with some animal in this remote village that previously might have led to the jump of a virus into that community that would have maybe infected a few people, maybe infected one person, probably would have died out.
Now, all of a sudden, that remote village is immediately connected to the major city and through air transportation and ships, to the rest of the world. So something that's in the middle of nowhere -- here, for example, can potentially, you know, be in New York in the course of 48 hours.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Health officials aren't sure how many animals or humans might be...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...jumped to more than 30 humans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There may be other individuals with ill animals.
COOPER: In 2003, Americans were shocked when a rare zoonotic disease called Monkeypox infected dozens of people in the Midwest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officials say the disease has spread to Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like fever.
COOPER: It turns out it was caused by African rodents imported into America as pets. That outbreak was quickly contained.
But in Central Africa, Monkeypox continues to kill. Dr. Wolfe takes Sanjay and me on a long journey from Cameroon to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 20 people have just died from a Monkeypox outbreak. We fly to a remote town called Loja where, in a walled compound, we find Coy (ph) alone in a small hut.
GUPTA: Now we're standing out here and she's inside there.
Why -- why is that?
NEVILLE KISALU: So the first thing you need to do is to isolate the patient.
COOPER: Neville Kisalu is a local scientist working with Dr. Wolfe's team.
GUPTA: Are we at risk?
I mean, how contagious is this?
KISALU: Just looking at the patient, you have no risk. But when you are in contact -- direct contact with the patient, at that time, you -- you are in danger.
COOPER: Coy is the latest victim. All of these people are slowly recovering and are still quarantined in this makeshift clinic. Painful sores cover their bodies and they say they feel tired all the time.
GUPTA: If she hadn't made it to you, to this place, what would have happened to her?
KISALU: Some patients recover, but others die.
COOPER: Coy probably got Monkeypox through contact with bush meat, which she says she handled over the past few weeks -- or she came in contact with an infected person. Its exact origins are still unknown.
It's unlikely Monkeypox could become a pandemic because it loses strength as it passes from person to person, unlike HIV.
Coy will have to stay quarantined for weeks. There's little the medical team can do for her, aside from hoping the Monkeypox runs its course and she survives. For Dr. Wolfe, Coy's case is both a warning and a sign of things to come.
WOLFE: We're just tapping the surface. We've got the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our knowledge of the different viruses that are out there. And by documenting them -- potentially to get in a space where we can prevent pandemics, instead of waiting for AIDS to happen and then spread globally, to actually catch it earlier, which could potentially save millions of lives.
COOPER (on camera): It's difficult to see people here suffer, especially when you realize that they likely only came in contact with Monkeypox because they were hungry and searching for food.
In another part of Africa, it's the search for oil that's created a new battle line.
We asked Lisa Ling to travel to Nigeria to investigate a conflict that's already turned deadly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The battle we are waging is the battle for our lives. It's the battle for our future. It's the battle for prosperity.
LISA LING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is dawn in Nigeria. We've been driving for hours with armed escorts, headed to a secret location to meet up with one of the world's most notorious militant groups. They're called MEND -- the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. They're waging a violent battle that has killed hundreds of people.
A look out the window shows you what they're fighting about -- oil. It is everywhere here. Gas flares from refineries dot the landscape. Oil generates billions of dollars here, but the average Nigerians get almost none of that. That's what MEND is violently trying to change.
We arrive at the rendezvous point and are told to follow this man. We walk through back alleys and then come to the water.
(on camera): So we've just been brought to this dock and we're being asked to get into these boats. We can't tell you where we are and we're not sure where we're going, but let's go.
(voice-over): We drive for hours by boat, passing small villages, winding through creeks. Then, suddenly, they appear -- a checkpoint and a boat full of MEND fighters armed to the teeth. They circle around us, chanting. And they say their spokesman is ready to talk.
(on camera): After a two hour boat ride, we finally arrive. This is the MEND -- the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. And we've just arrived at the shooting range, apparently.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LING (voice-over): These are the men who control vast swaths of Nigeria's land and water. These are the men whose violent attacks spike oil prices around the world.
(on camera): After a two hour boat ride, we finally arrive. This is the Movement...
LING: ...the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. And we've just arrived at the shooting range, apparently.
(voice-over): MEND -- the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta -- says it's fighting a war on behalf of average Nigerians. Their targets are the Nigerian military and the oil companies operating here. The battle is over the billions of dollars worth of oil pumped from Nigeria.
Quite simply, MEND considers the old owned by the Nigerian people, so everyone should reap its reward. Because so far, MEND says, oil has been nothing but a curse.
This is part of the reason why. Community activist Patrick Nabantin (ph) shot this video of an oil leak months ago and took us by boat to the spot. Oil covers the water and the mangroves for miles.
(on camera): So, Patrick, you think this is where they clamped the leak?
PATRICK NABANTIN: Yes. This is where they clamped the leak. It was about two weeks ago.
LING (voice-over): They is the Shell Oil Company. This is their pipeline. It leaked for more than three months before it was clamped shut. Patrick is someone who grew up in this community.
(on camera): When you look around and you see everything that has died as a result of oil and you know that people are making billions of dollars off of what's beneath here, how does that make you feel?
NABANTIN: Well, I get angry.
LING (voice-over): As we talk, a group of boys approach. They're going fishing -- hoping to sell their catch to buy supplies for school.
(on camera): Have they been able to find any fairly clean areas?
(voice-over): There's some places where the oil is not so bad, so we're walking there now. But it's over three miles, he says. We can't fish the mangroves anymore.
(on camera): So these are communities that are reliant upon fishing, but over the last four months or more, they haven't caught any fish.
But yet every day they still go and they try to find areas that are a little less contaminated?
(voice-over): Nigeria is the world's eighth largest oil exporter. The U.N. estimates that since the mid- '70s, there have been more than 6,000 oil spills -- 6,000. Those spills represent more than 10 times the amount of oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez. But spills here go virtually unnoticed -- except by people who have to deal with the aftermath.
(on camera): This is an area that should be very wealthy and should have services, because it's so, so rich in resources. Yet it's had such an adverse impact.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a -- that is the paradox of oil -- of oil-richness. The situation here is so tragic. The battle we are waging is the battle for our lives. It's the battle for our future. It's the battle for posterity.
LING: We were promised an interview with the country chief of Shell in Nigeria and we wanted to ask about the oil spill and some of the things that Patrick told us about. And we came all the way to Lagos and spent all day here and he canceled.
(voice-over): As you can see, they weren't happy we showed up anyway.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're too late, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had your chance.
LING: But they did e-mail us, saying that in compliance with Nigerian law, they are cleaning up the spill. They also said the pipeline repair was delayed because the community denied them access.
Patrick says that's not true. But because of the finger pointing between Shell and the community, we couldn't confirm the claims of either side. But the oil companies are only one part of the equation. The other is the Nigerian government. Transparency International consistently rates it as one of the most corrupt in the world. The billions of dollars in oil revenues are split between the oil companies and the federal government.
The money is then supposed to make it down to local governments for local projects. But mostly it hasn't. Instead, it's vanished. Nigeria's own corruption agency estimates between $300 billion and $400 billion have been stolen or wasted in the last 50 years.
ROTIMI AMAECHI: (INAUDIBLE) with the $5 billion.
LING: Rotimi Amaechi is the governor of River State, the richest oil state in Nigeria.
AMAECHI: That is part of our contribution.
LING: He drove us around to show us how he's using what he says are millions of dollars...
AMAECHI: This was the (INAUDIBLE).
LING: ...to build new clinics, markets and roads. He acknowledges the history of corruption, but says it's changing.
AMAECHI: There's a lot of improvements. The work being done by the corruption agency and the federal government has somehow been able to control the level of corruption by the party (INAUDIBLE).
LING: New schools and roads don't begin to scratch the surface of what MEND want. They want billions of dollars more in oil revenue to go to average Nigerians. And they say they'll keep doing this if they don't get it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What message do you have for your families?
LING: Kidnapping oil workers like these men here and sabotaging oil facilities. MEND's attacks cut Nigeria's output by 20 percent in 2008, representing billions of dollars of losses for the oil companies and the government -- and driving up oil prices around the world.
Back on the beach, as the spokesman prepares to talk to us, events take a bizarre turn. All the aimless shooting has led to an accident. One of their men is shot in the leg and the stomach. That's him in the back of the boat.
In fact, the more time we spend with these men the clearer it becomes that this is an undisciplined and rather rag-tag group, better at posing for pictures than marksmanship. But they say their ranks are growing. And that's bad news for both the oil companies and the Nigerian government.
Finally, the spokesman is ready to talk. He goes by Tom. We've agreed to disguise his voice. TOM, MEND SPOKESMAN: We are normal people. We travel, we visit, we do business, we're in communities, we're in banks, we're in the military. We're in every facet of society. Some of us are diplomats.
LING (on camera): What has oil done to the region?
TOM: It's brought a lot of hardship. I wish it was not even found. Oil companies would be accountable. That's what has led to this militancy.
LING (voice over): Tom says MEND has more than 30 camps like this one around Nigeria and says the government knows where they are but is afraid to attack them. But Tom warns they are ready.
(On camera): How far are you willing to take this battle?
TOM: As long as it takes, we are preparing. The Nigerian government is also preparing. They are not preparing for peace. They're preparing for war. We are going to take it as far as the government wants to take it.
LING: This is clearly a battle that's being waged in plain sight. And as you just heard from the MEND, they don't plan on giving up until they get what they want. But there are other battles where the lines aren't so clear, where there are gray areas and there are secrets.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta went to Peru to investigate.
JOSE SERRANO, ST. LOUIS UNIVERSITY: We found that 98 percent of the children had elevated blood lead levels.
GUPTA (voice over): The first thing you notice are the smiling faces. The giggles. The second is that something here is not quite right.
It's called the Casaraca School. It's located in the town of La Oroya, a town that's of high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. To get into this school, there are no entrance exams, no interviews. The criteria for enrollment is poisoned blood.
Every one of these children has severe lead poisoning.
(On camera): What you're looking at looks like just a childhood game, but remember all these children have lead poisoning. What happens is a lot of time they develop neurological problems, which make their motor skills difficult to develop. So simply climbing these stairs, being able to walk along a little path like this really helps them in the long run.
There you go, sweetie.
(Voice over): But these kids are the lucky ones. That's because the school only takes 100 students and it's miles from the town.
This is the reality for the rest of the children of La Oroya. Schools in the shadows of smoke stacks where poisoned air is inescapable. Much of the lead is coming the Doe Run Peru smelter. The smelter's operators know about the children with the lead poisoning. In fact, Doe Run funds the Casaraca school.
How is it possible then that a company can poison children? That this mother can say it killed her daughter?
The company says they're doing all they can, but it's complicated. And it's touched off a battle pitting the people of La Oroya against Doe Run.
ANNOUNCER: PLANET IN PERIL is sponsored by...
GUPTA (voice over): The poisoning of La Oroya, Peru. It's a story with so many layers. Every time you peel one back, something else, someone else, appears. Smoke stacks from a factory called the Doe Run Peru smelter stand high on the horizon. Rocks and minerals are brought here and processed into metals like lead, copper and zinc.
The company dominates life in La Oroya. It's the area's largest employer. It funds schools. It operates health clinics. The smelter is also the reason the watchdog group, the Blacksmith Institute says, La Oroya is one of the 10 most polluted places on the planet.
(On camera): I'll tell you, you can taste the stuff in the back of your throat. It burns your eyes a little bit. It's sulfur dioxide. It's arsenic. It's lead and it's all the by-products that come from this particular smelting plant.
I feel it today. And I've only been here one day. But imagine for those people over there. They live there. And those -- that particular residential area, they have to deal with this every single day.
(Voice over): Doctors and researchers say it's making people very sick. And Mercedes Inga says it's killing them as well. Her daughter died two years ago.
(On camera): What specifically happened to our oldest daughter?
(Voice over): She had headaches, stomach aches, trouble sleeping, she says. Wounds that would just not heal for months. She was in and out of hospitals for nine years, and she suffered from bone cancer.
Excessive lead exposure has been linked to cancer. While doctors may never be completely certain what led to her daughter's illness, Mercedes showed us Maricruz's medical records as proof that her blood was filled with toxic levels of lead and arsenic.
(On camera): How did your daughter get poisoned with all of these substances?
(Voice over) : She says, because she was born and raised close to the Doe Run plant in La Oroya.
Maricruz was 17 years old.
What the Doe Run plant says about Maricruz's death might surprise you and we'll show you that in a second. But first, how this place became so toxic.
SERRANO: The main source of contamination is here in this smelter.
GUPTA (on camera): That smelting plant?
SERRANO: The smelting plant operated by Doe Run. This population...
GUPTA (voice over): Jose Serrano is a public health researcher from St. Louis University. He came here in 2005 to gather blood and soil samples to independently study the health of La Oroya's citizens. His findings were stunning.
SERRANO: As far as lead, we tested all ages from six months to 6 years. We found that 98 percent of the children have elevated blood lead levels.
GUPTA: 98 percent. The young tissues and nervous systems of children are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning.
Juan Carlos Huyhua is Doe Run Peru's president.
(On camera): Is the pollution a problem here?
JUAN CARLOS HUYHUA, PRESIDENT, DOE RUN PERU: In the past it was, it was a problem in the past. But right now, the reductions in the levels are significant.
GUPTA (voice over): That's true. Lead in the air has dropped nearly 70 percent over the past decade. Doe Run bought the plant in 1997 after the smelter had been running for more than 75 years with no environmental oversight. So some of that lead in the land around La Oroya has been there for decades. Lead, the government agreed, it would clean up according to Doe Run.
But today, Doe Run's own data shows it is pumping out hazardous levels of lead.
(On camera): But even you would admit, I think, most would admit, five years ago, 10 years ago, when Doe Run Peru was here, it was very polluted. And you were getting people who had high concentrations of lead in their blood, high concentrations of arsenic in their blood. Was that not happening?
HUYHUA: In the past, those levels were higher than like I said.
GUPTA: But that's how long ago?
HUYHUA: I said Doe Run... GUPTA: That's just a few years ago.
(Voice over): But Doe Run says it has spent more than $300 million to make improvements. Much of the plant is now enclosed so that fewer emissions are released. The river water snaking through La Oroya has been cleaned up by Doe Run and there are Doe Run-sponsored public health initiatives as well, like teaching children to wash their hands properly and street-sweepers who brush away the lead that falls from the sky.
So there have been improvements. But this place is still poisonous.
The reality is poisonous or not, La Oroya depends on the smelter. The average Doe Run employee makes $20,000. That's six times the average Peruvian income. So it's no surprise that few townspeople are eager to speak out against the company.
It's the battle line between earning a living and basic health that few have been willing to cross. Until now. Which brings us back to Mercedes Inga.
(On camera): If you did sit down and talk to the president of Doe Run, what would you tell him?
(Voice over): She says, I would tell him about the damage they have done.
(On camera): These are stories that we're hearing about this particular plant and she thinks it's because of the poisoning that occurred as a result of what happens here.
HUYHUA: Well, the only -- the only thing that we -- we can say that it's -- it's not to say good news if that happens. And I -- I do not have a good knowledge of that. But if that were the case, I guess the experts, the doctors, maybe are taking care of that. But now what is the reality? I don't know.
GUPTA (voice over): The reality for Mercedes Inga is that her daughter is gone. And it's here you might think this story is coming to a close. But instead, there's another one of those layers.
You see, Doe Run has a sister company that does the same work, processes the same metals, but does it safely. What's more, both companies are owned by one of the wealthiest and most elusive men in the world.
(On camera): We've been looking everywhere for him. We can't get close to him. But we do know that's his house right over there.
GUPTA (voice over): Is it the health of a child in America worth more than one who lives in Peru? Is the Doe Run company making that choice, poisoning children in Peru when they don't have to?
The answer may be thousands of miles from La Oroya, Peru, in the United States at a smelter called Doe Run Missouri.
(On camera): We're now here in Herculaneum, Missouri. It's a long way from La Oroya, Peru. In so many ways, this is the tale of two towns. Two towns that are defined by the smelting plants like the one you see behind me.
Smelting plants that have this unfortunate legacy of contaminating communities and poisoning children. The difference, though, is here in Missouri, they figured out how to turn that legacy around.
(Voice over): That's right. The Missouri smelter processes the same metals, does the same work as the one in Peru. But there's one glaring difference between them. While Doe Run Peru continues to poison La Oroya, Doe Run Missouri operates with dramatically lower lead emissions, keeping everyone around the plant safe from lead poisoning.
Jerry Pyatt is the chief operating officer of Doe Run Missouri.
JERRY PYATT, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, DOE RUN MISSOURI: ... will tell you there are no issues with children with elevated blood leads in Herculaneum.
GUPTA: But that hasn't always been the case. In 2002, a study found more than half the children living a quarter mile from this smelter had elevated blood lead levels. So, facing public and governmental pressures, Doe Run Missouri spent $10 million to buy out the 160 homes closest to the plant.
PYATT: Our belief is that one child with an elevated blood lead is too many.
GUPTA (on camera): What I'm really trying to understand is why they couldn't adopt some of the same things that you've done here successfully in Peru. You said one child is too many. Almost every child has lead poisoning down there.
PYATT: I go to Peru a few times a year. And my counterpart in Peru comes up here. And it gives us an opportunity to share best practices. I certainly expect Doe Run Peru to make a lot of progress. They have made a lot of progress.
GUPTA (voice over): But progress, it seems, might just depend on where you live.
(On camera): Why should the standards for lead in the body be different in Peru than they are in the United States? Why should that be allowed?
HUYHUA: Well, you as a doctor, you know more than me. I am not a doctor, American doctor. You know, this is a process.
GUPTA: But do you believe that the people of Peru that live in this area are being treated as second-class citizens as compared to the area of Missouri? HUYHUA: No.
GUPTA: So now we've come to another one of those layers in the story. The parent company and the man behind Doe Run Missouri and Doe Run Peru. The company is called the Renco Group. The man is an American named Ira Rennert. In fact, that's his house right down there, in the Hampton's of New York. It's called Fairfield. It's one of the largest private residences in America. "Forbes" magazine has put his net worth in over $6 billion.
(Voice over): If you've never heard of Ira Rennert, it's because he likes to keep it that way. There are very few photos of him. His company Renco is privately held so there are no shareholder meetings, no public events.
Rennert turned down CNN's request for an interview. His representative say it's Renco policy to allow the smelter executives to speak on behalf of their operations. So we asked them about Mr. Rennert.
(On camera): Have you met the elusive Ira Rennert? We've only read about him.
PYATT: Renco, Renco typically comes to, to Missouri once a month. And so we do see the company on a regular basis.
GUPTA: Has he -- come down here, Ira Rennert?
PYATT: Yes, he does.
GUPTA (voice over): He does. Several times a year, in fact, according to court documents, even though Doe Run executives insist they operate independently from Ira Rennert and Renco.
(On camera): From the outsiders' standpoint, you have this really, really rich guy who has these companies that have been associated with polluting the environment. And the question is, could they have done more with some more money to make it safer for the citizens of their communities.
PYATT: I can assure you he's done a lot to help a lot of people. So I'll just, I'll just leave it at that. Probably not going to change a lot of -- you know, other people's mind but that's the truth.
GUPTA (voice over): The truth for Mercedes Inga who lost her daughter, for all the people of La Oroya is that they don't have options. Many of them told us they don't have anywhere else to go. They began to look for answers to demand change from Doe Run Peru. But for now, they're simply forced to live in a place that is poison.
(On camera): Well, clearly the battle lines have been drawn here between industry and human health. And they're going to become more pronounced around the world as the demand for output from factories like this one continue to rise.
But the battles aren't just being waged on land, but also being waged in the sea. Over an animal, perhaps more feared and misunderstood than any other on the planet.
Lisa Ling's investigation begins in Costa Rica.
PETER KNIGHTS, CO-FOUNDER, WILDAID: The tradition will end. The question is will it end before there's any sharks left?
LING (voice over): This place is not what it seems. At a glance, it's placid, beautiful, even. Look closer and there's a battle raging.
It takes 30 hours by boat to get to Costa Rica to Cocos Island, a small rectangular rock, part of Costa Rican territory that rises out of the Eastern Pacific.
There are sharks there. Lots of them. Scientists think more than any other place on earth in fact. That makes Cocos ground zero in a fight to save a species.
(On camera): We just arrived in Cocos Island and we overheard the ranger say that there is a long line somewhere around here that has five or six dead sharks attached to it.
(Voice over): We're on the lookout for buoys because fishermen usually attach their lines to them.
It's illegal to fish within a 12-mile radius of the island.
(On camera): So we found the red buoy.
(Voice over): But this line is less than a mile from shore.
KNIGHTS: Can you imagine if this is Yellowstone Park and people were queuing up to shoot the grizzlies? You'll ever get away with it. Because it's ocean, because it's out of sight, out of mind, just carries on.
LING: Peter Knights is the co-founder of WildAid, an organization focused on exposing the illegal wild life trade. His latest battle -- saving the sharks.
KNIGHTS: Sharks are probably one of nature's most successful designs. They've been on the planet for nearly 400 million years. They were designed at a time when there's no other species preying on them.
Now human beings have entered the equation and human beings are taking out sharks in unprecedented numbers. And they just can't cope.
LING: According to WildAid, nearly 100 million sharks are killed every year around the world. 100 million. They say the population of almost every species of shark has declined by more than 50 percent in the past 15 years.
But so what, you might say. Why should we care? Because, as a top predator in the food chain, when sharks disappear, ecosystems change. And when marine ecosystems change, entire fisheries and the billion dollar economies built around them collapse.
Think it can't happen? It has. The cod industry collapsed around New England in the 1990s and cost that region over $1 billion. A similar collapse of salmon stocks happened this year on the West Coast, prompting the federal government to give him more than $100 million in disaster aid.
KNIGHTS: These are ecosystems that are evolved over millions and millions of years. And as soon as you start to take out an important part of it, it's like a -- it's like a brick wall. You take out bricks, it's -- eventually it's going to collapse.
LING: The reason sharks are slaughtered might surprise you. It's for their fins. An industry the humane society says is worth more than $500 million. We'll tell you who want those fins in a second, but first how they're getting them, which brings us back to Cocos Island and something called long lining.
Miles and miles of fishing lines strung with thousands of hooks. It's cheap, easy, and very efficient at catching sharks.
KNIGHTS: Look at that. (INAUDIBLE) wrapped up in it.
LING: On this one line, there are 10 sharks. Two of them Knights was able to save. But it's too late for the other eight.
KNIGHTS: Want to get really depressed. We'll just going to check if it's pregnant. There's a little baby there you see.
LING: Including a female about to give birth to seven baby sharks called pups.
(On camera): This is one of how many long lines that are out around this island?
KNIGHTS: There could be 20 or 30 lines in the water which means thousands and thousands of hooks.
You're seeing a whole new line of buoys down here so.
LING (voice over): Long lining for sharks is actually legal in international waters.
KNIGHTS: That's it there. Got it? That's a shark boat.
LING: But even where it's illegal like here it's difficult to police. The week we spent in Cocos, we saw only one government patrol boat and locals say it only shows up a few times a year.
We tried approaching these two fishing boats we spotted within three miles of the island to get their side of the story. Here's a surprise, they didn't want to talk.
Catching sharks can be extremely lucrative. A single whale shark fin can sell for more than $1,000. The rest of the shark is pretty much worthless, so to make more room for the valuable fins, fishermen often resort to a practice called finning.
Cutting off a shark fin then dumping the bodies into the water while they're still alive. They can't swim, so they sink to the bottom and die. All of this to make more room for fins on the boat.
So where are all of these fins going?
The vast majority make their way to Asia with many passing through Taiwan. So that's where we head next -- to the port of Kaohsiung, reputed to be one of the world's main hubs for fins.
KNIGHTS: Looks like they've got fins and bodies over here.
LING: But as the ship docks begin to unload, it's clear, shark finning isn't something they're interest in discussing.
KNIGHTS: Don't touch the camera, buddy.
LING: It's early morning in Taiwan's southern city of Kaohsiung. We're on our way with WildAid's Peter Knights to the city's port, where we have heard boats are unloading their catch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're just unloading from the hold.
LING: As soon as they arrive, it's easy to see why this is considered one of the world's main hubs for shark fins.
(on camera): That whole truck is filled with fins.
(voice-over): Thousands of fins are thrown from just this one ship that has spent months fishing in international waters. A forklift scoops up large piles of fins and dumps them into a truck. It quickly becomes clear they don't want us here.
(on camera): What is the problem?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your problem? No, I don't like it.
LING: Is this your boat? Is this your boat?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't like it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a public place. There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to film. There's nothing wrong in itself. It's just they know that the sharks are being overexploited. They know that the shark fin is an issue, and they're very sensitive about it.
LING (voice-over): Sensitive because this entire industry depends on consumer demand.
All of these sharks have been killed, all of these fins cut solely to make soup. That's right, soup. We will show you what so- called shark fin soup looks like in a second, but, first, some background.
None of what you're looking at is illegal. Taiwan has no law against fins taken from international waters coming to their ports, only what it calls a -- quote -- "plan of action." That plan basically requires the bodies of the sharks the fins came from to be accounted for, and not dumped into the sea.
(on camera): Coming up right now?
(voice-over): However, at this port, we see a lot more fins being unloaded than we do bodies.
But Taiwan is not alone. Shark-finning thrives off weak regulations around the world. And only a few countries demand that sharks arrive in port with fins attached.
Knights says it all comes down to economics.
PETER KNIGHTS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WILDAID: The fin is one of the most expensive pound-for-pound items from the sea. And, of course, the beauty about the fin is, it's very compact. And that's why the finning goes on. You can sundry the fins. You can bring them back. It doesn't take up your hold, and you make a lot of money from it.
LING: So, then, it's easy to understand why the battle over sharks is so intense...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't want to be in it? Great. OK.
LING: ... and why so many people are in on the trade.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, here you go.
LING (on camera): Wow. Come here. Look at this.
(voice-over): The low-tech processing plants for the fins are all around the port.
KNIGHTS: Next to us is a whole bunch of fins.
LING (on camera): Yes.
(voice-over): From the tops of the building, you can see thousands of fins drying in the sun.
KNIGHTS: They have to separate the skin on both sides.
LING: We were invited into a processing plant to see what happens next. After drying, each one is soaked and stripped down, so that just the cartilage remains.
KNIGHTS: Even the fin itself, very little of the fin is used, just the cartilage inside. LING: After a few minutes inside the plant, this manager got nervous and asked us to leave.
(on camera): We were initially allowed access, but now the owner seems to be having second thoughts.
(voice-over): Shark fin soup has been around for centuries, but it used to be rare, a delicacy enjoyed by the wealthy for special occasions -- not anymore.
KNIGHTS: China, in this case, is the 800-pound gorilla. We have seen the growth of the Chinese middle class in the last 15 years, from probably five or 10 million to 250 million. And it's just been explosive, as we have all seen. And that's just had a tremendous impact on -- on the demand for shark fin soup.
LING: It's now a mass market, where shops sell fins by the bagful. And restaurant menus boast not only the $100 bowl of soup, but $10 bowls and all-you-can-eat shark fin soup buffets.
(on camera): So, Pete, it's a Thursday night. This restaurant is practically full. This is one of thousands of restaurants in the world that serve shark fin soup. How are you going to stop this?
KNIGHTS: Well, I'm not sure we're going to stop it altogether. We just need to reduce it to sustainable levels. That's the goal.
LING (voice-over): Knights says their efforts are having an impact, but he knows the odds are stacked against the shark. And time is quickly running out.
KNIGHTS: The message is getting out there, slowly but surely. But it's a huge, huge challenge. The tradition will end. The question is, will it end before there's -- where there's any sharks left?
LING (on camera): He says, the reason why sharks are so threatened is because they're feared and misunderstood. And some people think that the best way to understand sharks is to actually see them up close. But, as Anderson found out when he went to swim with great white sharks, that's really touching off a battle of its own.
CRAIG BOVIM, SHARK ATTACK SURVIVOR: When I came out of that impact, I was still inside his mouth, and he was slowly swimming with me.
COOPER (voice-over): When great white sharks start to circle your boat, the feeling is unsettling. Sixteen feet long, thousands of pounds, these are the animals of so many nightmares.
MIKE RUTZEN, SHARK EXPERT: This is the famous Shark Alley.
COOPER: We have come to dive with these great whites to get an up-close look at them and the battle that's being waged around them.
RUTZEN: Please do not go down unless we tell you to. COOPER: Mike Rutzen takes tourists cage-diving with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa.
RUTZEN: And then you can lean back and (INAUDIBLE) and be comfortable.
COOPER: It's become a big business. But it's also, he says, a conservation effort. He thinks, if people can see these endangered animals underwater, they will learn to appreciate him and want to help protect them.
Cage-diving, however, is highly uncontroversial. We will tell you why in a second. But, right now, the water is filled with blood and fish parts called chum, and the great whites have arrived.
(on camera): So, any recommendations for what you do?
RUTZEN: Well, basically, don't scare the sharks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you go into the water...
COOPER: I'm not worried about scaring the sharks. It's usually the other way around, I think.
(voice-over): After we get used to being in the water with the sharks inside a cage, we have the chance to do something that few others ever have. We will go swimming with great white sharks without a cage.
COOPER (voice-over): Climbing into a shark cage is scary. The sea is chummed with blood and fish parts. And, under water, visibility is low. At first, all you see is a vague shape moving fast.
Then, all of a sudden, you find yourself face-to-face with a great white shark, its mouth open, its eyes rolling back to its head.
(on camera): It's one thing to see a great white from the boat, but to actually be down in the water, to be, you know, six, seven feet away from one, it's -- it's an extraordinary experience.
(voice-over): This experience has become a major draw for tourists. Each one of these people paid $150 to visit this reef off the coast of South Africa known as Shark Alley.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, there's the great white shark.
COOPER: It's one of the best places in the world to see great whites. And shark tourists bring in more than $30 million every year to South Africa.
But is this really good for sharks?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa!
COOPER: The battle lines are drawn.
At issue is how the sharks are brought to the boat, chumming. Mashed-up fish parts and blood are thrown into the water, and the scent attracts the great whites. Once the sharks arrive, a tuna head attached to a rope is used as bait to lure the sharks to the surface and get them to lung at the cage.
RUTZEN: The bite is just a visual reference to the smell. So, all we're doing is, we don't let it take the bait. We're just trying pulling it -- trying to pull them the bait a little bit, that the animal can turn and come a little bit closer to the cage, that the people can see it a bit better.
COOPER (on camera): But it does sometimes get the bait?
RUTZEN: It does sometimes gets it bait, yes. That's unfortunate.
COOPER (voice-over): Critics say it's more than unfortunate. They say, it's dangerous.
When the sharks get the bait, it teaches them to associate food with humans in the water. And that, some locals believe, is encouraging great whites to try to eat swimmers and surfers.
Craig Bovim thinks cage-diving could be why a great white almost killed him. Bovim was diving for lobster on this beach near Cape Town in 2005 when he was attacked.
BOVIM: And it just clamped down on both of my arms. When I was came out of that impact, I was still inside his mouth, and he was slowly swimming with me.
COOPER: The shark was dragging him out to sea. After he overcame the shock of what was happening to him, he began to fight back.
BOVIM: So, I started putting my knees to his belly, and I saw that that was having some effect on him. And I head-butted him with my mask on his nose, and carried on this tussle for quite a while. Eventually...
COOPER (on camera): So, basically, you're wrestling with the shark underwater.
BOVIM: Yes. And I realized I wasn't actually getting out. So, I just pulled on my right hand. I thought I was going to leave my hand inside. And I pulled and pulled. Eventually, my arm came free.
COOPER: So, this bite here and here?
COOPER (voice-over): Both of Bovim's hands were mangled, and his right one is permanently damaged. Today, he still surfs and dives in the same water where he was attacked, but he's become one of cage- diving and chumming's most vocal critics.
BOVIM: You cannot find a single example of people feeding and attracting and baiting animals that has been successful.
COOPER: With no other animal viewing do people bait or -- or chum. I mean, to go see the lion, you don't throw out food.
BOVIM: They used to. Nobody would even think about doing that anymore.
COOPER: Shark tour operators can't do it anymore in Florida and Hawaii. After a series of vicious shark attacks, chumming was banned in both states.
But shark tour operators in South Africa point that, even though shark tourism has risen dramatically in the past decade, shark attacks have not. On average, there are around five attacks on humans every year in South Africa.
But Craig Bovim and others insist, the behavior of sharks is changing. Normally, if a shark bites a human, they release them. But the shark that attacked Bovim did not. And, in the last four years, there have been at least two deadly attacks in which sharks ate their victims whole.
So, who's right? Unfortunately, the science to support either position isn't easy to come by. For all our fear and fascination with great whites, they remain a mystery. There's so much we simply don't know about their behavior. They have never been seen mating or giving birth, for example.
And though they're classified as an endangered species, we don't even know how many of them there are.
Alison Kock is a Marine biologist studying the effects of cage- diving on the feeding habits of great whites. Kock is tagging great whites with darts attached to transmitters. She can then track the shark's movements around these waters for months.
ALISON KOCK, MARINE BIOLOGIST: There we go. Here we go. Keep it there. Keep it there. Tagged.
COOPER: She's tagged over 70 sharks so far. The data she's collected led to the only peer-reviewed study on the effects of cage- diving on shark behavior.
KOCK: The study that we did showed a surprising result, in that the sharks, most of them stopped responding over time to the boat.
COOPER (on camera): So, you don't see any connection between increased shark attacks in this area and shark tourism?
KOCK: No, not at all. All the evidence that we have at the moment finds no link between chumming and shark attacks. We are definitely not on the shark's menu.
COOPER: Mike Rutzen is so sure we're not on the shark's menu, he stakes his life on it. He's one of the few people in the world willing to swim with great white sharks without a cage. He's been doing it now for 10 years.
He believes, to understand the true nature of great whites, you have to do it without a cage. You have to meet the animal on its own terms.
So, we decided to join Rutzen underwater, so, we, too, can come face-to-face with this most feared predator of the sea without a cage.
(on camera): It definitely gets your heart beating.
COOPER (voice-over): Preparing to swim with great white sharks without a cage produces two reactions. The first is -- well, fear. It's hard to believe you're about to actually do this.
The second reaction is a surge of adrenaline.
(on camera): It definitely gets your heart beating.
(voice-over): Mike Rutzen knows that better than anyone. He's dived with great whites without a cage hundreds of times. He once caught even a ride on a great white's dorsal fin. He insists these animals may be top predators, but they're not the man-eating machines so often portrayed in movies.
We have decided to take him up on his offer to dive with the sharks without a cage to see the great whites in their natural state.
(on camera): What do I need to know before going down?
RUTZEN: Whatever you do, don't make fast movements. What we are is the same as a jackal at a lion feed. As long as the jackal behaves, it doesn't get killed.
COOPER: So, we're like the jackal at a lion feed? The great white are the lions, and we're the jackal?
COOPER: They will let us be there, as long as we don't interfere with them?
RUTZEN: Don't try and grab a bone and run away.
COOPER (voice-over): The water is filled with chum, fish parts and blood. A number of sharks are already circling the boat. So, it's time to go.
To get to the bottom, I climb into a cage which is lowered about 20 feet to the ocean floor. Mike's already there scouting for any sharks. Then, he signals for me to swim out.
Almost immediately, my weight belt falls off. Struggling with that is the last thing you want to be doing around great whites. The current is really strong. And Mike has me hold on to a rock to stay in place. Visibility is low.
But, then, suddenly, the sharks come into view. It's clear they see us, but they're keeping their distance, gliding by slowly, gracefully. It's remarkable to see them like this, to be so exposed to an animal that is so feared.
Mike warned me they don't like the sound of air bubbles and told me to hold my breath when they got near. Truth is, my heart's pounding so fast, holding my breath is almost impossible.
At one point, there are four different sharks swimming around us. It's important to stay alert. But, after a while, I'm also able to appreciate the beauty, the power of these animals, widely hunted, universally despised, capable of such destruction. And, yet, when you see them like this, not lunging after bait, but simply gliding through the water, you see them in a different way. You understand there is more to them than we know.
We stay down for more than 30 minutes, until our oxygen nearly runs out.
(on camera): To see it close, just -- I have never seen anything like it.
COOPER: It's amazing.
RUTZEN: You're still alive, eh?
COOPER: Yes. That was great. Thank you.
RUTZEN: (INAUDIBLE) friend.
COOPER: That's pretty amazing.
You get a totally different sense of them, seeing them like that, vs. seeing from a cage, where they're attacking a piece of bait.
RUTZEN: They're just trying to be sharks.
COOPER (voice-over): They're just trying to be sharks. But the truth is, we really don't know enough about what that means. As long as our knowledge of sharks and the role they play in our oceans is dwarfed by our fear and our hatred of them, the fight over their future will go on.
(on camera): From a battle over the animals in the sea to one that is on land.
Lisa Ling is traveling to eastern Chad, near the border with Darfur, to see why one of the planet's most magnificent and largest animals is now caught in the crosshairs of conflict.
MIKE FAY, FIELD BIOLOGIST, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY: We have called it the ivory wars for a long time. And they're continuing, and we're losing.
LING (voice-over): Mike Fay is anxious. He's returning to a place he has not seen in more than a year, a place surrounded by violence and instability.
FAY: I just hope that we're not too late.
LING: He's going back, back to check on what he calls his obsession, the elephants of Chad's Zakouma National Park. It's the last stronghold of the African elephants, something ivory poachers know, too.
FAY: We hope that, in the last year-and-a-half, we haven't lost about two-thirds of these elephants. And while you think that that just can't be, how could you lose two-thirds of your elephants of this last, little tiny drop of elephants on the planet, you know, we don't know. We're here to find out.
LING: Fay is field biologist with Wildlife Conservation Society and explorer with the National Geographic Society. He knows the park like the back of his hand. He spent two years here counting every single elephant.
And that's why he's come back again. Fay's real work is done from the air.
FAY: I think I saw something, but...
LING: We're basically looking for two things: herds of elephants... FAY: There's that elephant right there.
LING: ... or their huge carcasses left by poachers.
(on camera): Do you know what it is?
(voice-over): From up here, it's difficult for me to spot anything on the ground.
FAY: I saw something.
LING: But, then, Mike's trained eyes see something in the distance.
(on camera): Ooh.
FAY: God damn!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.
LING: Wait. Wait. Wait. What are you seeing?
LING (voice-over): Flying low over Zakouma National Park in southeastern Chad, conservationist Mike Fey (ph) anxiously scans the landscape for elephants that are under attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looking for anything that indicates any kind of poaching activity for a major movement of wildlife, especially elephants.
LING: During his last survey in 2006, Fey counted 2,900 elephants in the park, nearly 900 less than the year before. Nine hundred less.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see any additions.
LING: Recent reports suggest the assault on the elephants here has only gotten worse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could have lost half of the elephants since I last surveyed them.
LING: From the plane, Fey (ph) spots big tracks in the tall grass below but no elephants to be found. Then, movement straight ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow! God damn!
LING (on camera): What do you see?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Huge herd of elephants!
LING: Straight on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man, you can't believe it.
LING: Oh, my God! Wow! Oh, my God. Wow!
(voice-over) Zakouma is the only place left on earth where you can witness this: hundreds of African elephants roaming freely across the savanna. It is an impressive sight.
(on camera) So beautiful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LING (voice-over): Thirty years ago, over 200,000 elephants roamed the region. But according to Fey (ph), the ivory trade has killed off nearly 97 percent of the population.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of two very tiny little areas left for elephants. And yet even those tiny places are under siege.
LING: Under siege because this place is lawless. We're only about 150 miles from Darfur, where war has raged for a decade. The different fighting factions constantly move through the park's 1,200 square miles, taking ivory to fund their wars that never seem to end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While the poaching still is principally done by these local Arab tribes, they -- they meld into the greater group of people because it's all the same kind of guys. It's marauding bands of horsemen that rape, pillage, and steal throughout this entire region.
LING: The U.S. State Department says a single pound of ivory can cost $400.
The largest living land animal on the planet, African elephants, can be pretty intimidating face-to-face.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be ready to head to the truck.
LING: We ran into these three bulls on the road.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys are going to charge us.
LING (on camera): You think so?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LING: Oh, God, speak to me. Oh, God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just wants to get across the road. Go on, you're OK. Yes.
LING (voice-over): Elephants can grow to be 13 feet tall and weigh up to 16,000 pounds, and, yet, the only things the poachers ever take are the tusks.
(on camera) It's wild to me that this massive animal is killed for just their tusks, for like a wallet ornament.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's all about human vanity.
LING (voice-over): Zakouma is a very dangerous place, especially for these park rangers. In the past two years, eight have been killed by rebels and bandits on the hunt for ivory. The battle lines here are drawn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've called it the ivory wars for a long time. And they're continuing, and we're losing.
LING: In 12 months, the rangers have found 180 carcasses within the park's boundaries. And in a year and a half, they've confiscated nearly 300 elephant tusks. Things here are getting worse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're talking, you know, a quarter of a million dollars, probably, worth of ivory here.
LING (on camera): So just in this room, we're looking at a gold mine on the global market, huh?
(voice-over) So where is it all going?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somewhere.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Africa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Africa.
LING: A recent study by Care for the Wild International says the top two markets for ivory are China and the United States.
(on camera) So by consuming ivory, are people indirectly fueling these militias?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. If you look at these guys' ability to do what they do with the proceeds from -- from those activities, then if you're consuming it, obviously you're -- you're the -- the provider for those people.
LING (voice-over): Nothing can prepare you to see what the demand for ivory does to a single elephant.
On the same day we'd seen the elephant herd from the air, we had just returned to camp when rangers radioed in the worst kind of news.
(on camera) Nikolai (ph) is an adviser to the anti-poaching patrol, and he says they just found a fresh elephant carcass about two miles from here, and he's going to take us over there to see it.
(voice-over) There are a few signs when you know you're near a fresh elephant carcass. First, you'll see the vultures hovering in the sky. Second, a smell consumes the entire area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's stinky.
LING: Then you see it.
(on camera) Oh, my God.
LING (voice-over): Nothing can prepare you to see a dead elephant. The vultures are the first sign you're close.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one I smelled was over there.
LING: Then you pick up the stench.
(on camera) God.
(voice-over) In a small clearing, we find her. A female elephant taken down by two bullet holes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's definitely one here in the trunk.
LING (on camera): Yes, I see it.
(voice-over) And left to rot in the sun.
(on camera) Oh, jeez, fresh blood. Oh, jeez.
There really is not much to say. I mean, this elephant, according to Mike, was probably killed about three days ago. And it is just -- the smell is nothing like anything I've ever experienced before. And it's just crawling with maggots and flies.
(voice-over) She is a baby, roughly 10 to 15 years old. A typical life span is usually 60.
(on camera) How many times have you seen this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hundreds of times, hundreds and hundreds of times. Yes, it's like it's really gruesome the first time you see it, the second time you see it and the 200th time you see it. It's always really gruesome.
LING (voice-over): But this elephant died for nothing. She had no tusks. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was tuskless.
LING (on camera): Oh, God.
(voice-over) Fey (ph) thinks she died because poachers just blindly fired to her herd.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So they shot them looking on.
LING: After just a week on the ground, Fey's (ph) initial estimates are grim. He believes there could be less than 1,000 elephants left in all of Zakouma.
He hasn't given up hope, but he knows this is the last stand for all that's left of central Africa's elephants.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As long as there's a single elephant left and they're not controlled, they will kill every single last elephant here. They'll kill every single one.
LING (on camera): The story of Zakouma's elephants seems hopeless. No matter how magnificent they are, when they're caught in the middle of human conflict, they barely stand a chance.
But there are isolated chances of hope, where natural resources can even thrive -- they can survive in the midst of the worst human conflict. And Anderson went to one of the most unlikely of places to investigate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's still a lot of conflict, but this is the most beautiful success of conservation of Mountain Gorillas.
COOPER (voice-over): You hear them before you see them. Snapping branches, deep grunts. They are the world's last remaining Mountain Gorillas. Massive and magnificent, they are cautious but incredibly curious.
There are only about 720 of them left on the planet, all of them living in the forest that straddles Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They're considered critically endangered, on the brink of extinction.
But in Rwanda, the survival of the gorillas has become a case study in how a country benefits from protecting its natural resources instead of destroying them.
It is a success story in one of the most unlikely places on earth. Just 14 years ago, Rwanda was in chaos, as one ethnic group tried to exterminate another. Neighbors killed neighbors. It was a genocidal blood bath resulting in the deaths of nearly 1 million people.
Since then, Rwanda has emerged from the violence and looked for ways to rebuild, looked for signs of hope. They found it in the forest. They found it in the gorillas.
(on camera) Why was it important for you to come back here after the genocide?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To come to see the animal, to see the gorillas.
COOPER (voice-over): There were still armed militia roving this area when Darawana Francois (ph), a park ranger and guide, risked his life to check on the gorillas just after the genocide in 1994. He took us to the spot where he entered Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park during those dangerous days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have one group of thirteen. You know group of thirteen. I visited first time. And the silverbacks is dying because the problem, the people killed the silverback.
COOPER (on camera): During the genocide?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The genocide, yes.
COOPER: What is that like, to see one of the gorillas dead? What is it like for you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was sad. It was a problem. Cause he die. For me was -- it is the same as your children. Your children you see die, or your wife see die. You sad.
COOPER: Seeing a gorilla die is like someone...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me is...
COOPER (voice-over): The problem for the gorillas for decades was that they were hunted and sold to zoos or killed as trophies. Local poachers also set snares for other animals that the gorillas got caught in.
After the genocide ended, a new government took over, and they decided to get serious about protecting the Mountain Gorillas. Essentially, they gambled they could pull a country and a species back from the brink simultaneously. They decided to put the gorillas at the center of their tourism effort.
For regular Rwandans, however, it was a tough sell. Rosette Ragumba (ph) is Rwanda's head parks and tourism.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The community was very antagonistic. They really did not understand. And you can't blame them, because why should they protect the gorillas? What does it mean to them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See the sign of the gorillas (ph) over there.
COOPER: No one seems to ask that question anymore.
In 2007, more than 13,000 tourists paid up to $5,000 to spend one hour with some of the gorilla families that have been habituated to humans by scientists. Tourism is now the country's third largest generator of foreign capital. Five percent of the $7 million the government earned last year from gorilla tourism went back to the communities near the gorilla's habitat. It's used to build roads, schools, and health clinics. Local people now see a benefit to keeping the gorillas alive. In Rwanda, the animals themselves are thriving.
Next door, however, it's another story. About half of the world's last remaining Mountain Gorillas live in forests in Rwanda's neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Just last year, ten gorillas there were slaughtered, shot to death. Some were even set on fire.
Congo has been battered by civil war for more than a decade now, and some $5 million have died as a result. The gorilla's habitat is literally a battleground. So unstable, rangers can't even enter the forest to patrol and protect them.
(on camera) There's nine gorillas in this group.
(voice-over) During a lull in the fighting, we visited Congo's gorillas in 2006. But today, no one is sure if these same gorillas are even alive.
That uncertainty makes the protection of Rwanda's gorillas all the more important.
Veronica Verselio (ph) has been monitoring Rwanda's gorilla groups for more than three years as director of research with the Dian Fossey Foundation. We're hiking with her up a steep mountain to go and see what's called a research group, gorillas never visited by tourists.
(on camera) We're not exactly sure what to expect.
The scientists who study these gorillas said there's a lot of aggression in the group, and they're not really sure how they'll react to our presence. So, frankly if they charge, I'm going to hide behind the biggest cameraman I can find.
COOPER (voice-over): Deep in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, we're hiking high in the mountain to see an animal threatened by conflict on the brink of extinction.
(on camera) We've been hiking already for nearly two hours. We're not sure how much further up the gorillas are. We're heading to a group of gorillas which have never been visited before by tourists. They're not habituated the same way. They've only been studied by scientists.
Before we enter the park, Veronica, the wildlife scientist, was telling us there's a lot of aggression in this group of gorillas that we're going to visit. So it should be interesting.
(voice-over) Gorillas are always on the move, searching for food and a place to rest. Trackers have gone up ahead of us to locate the family and radio us the coordinates. But even with the extra help, finding them isn't easy.
Nearly three hours into the hike, there are signs we're finally getting close. We finally find them in a large clearing, coming face- to-face with one of the families blackbacks, a young male.
Our trackers grunt, signaling we're not a threat, and he lets us go by.
It's an amazing sight: 43 gorillas in a single spot in the forest, about 20 percent of Rwanda's entire gorilla population. This family is called a Pablo group, named after the male silverback who used to be in charge. Pablo is still around, but another silverback, Cansby (ph), is now the boss.
(on camera) That's the silverback. That's the adult male?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
COOPER (voice-over): An adult male can weigh about 400 pounds and eats up to 60 pounds of vegetation a day.
A biologist and director of data and research of the Dian Fossey Foundation, Veronica Verselio (ph) studies Rwanda's three research groups.
(on camera) What's the value of having a group that's not a tourist group, that's just a research group?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Continuing the research in gorillas is very important. It's always give a lot of information in terms of population dynamics.
COOPER (voice-over): Population dynamics are important, especially since there are only about 720 Mountain Gorillas left in the wild, and they're smack dab in one of the world's worst conflict zones. Even the gorillas seem to know it.
(on camera) You have a Congo border, and there's obviously so much instability in Congo. How does that impact the gorillas?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gorillas, they are pretty much obliged to stay in Rwanda. They try several times to move her and to cross the border. And after a few hours, they run away -- literally, they run away and they come back to Rwanda.
COOPER (voice-over): We've been here for about an hour, and Cansby (ph) and the others don't seem to mind our presence. Frankly, they seem a little bored with us.
(on camera) We were warned that these Mountain Gorillas might be aggressive toward us, because there are so many adult males in the group and because they're not used to having so many visitors. Veronica is telling us that it's been raining a lot at night, and it's particularly cold. So a lot of these Mountain Gorillas are just exhausted, and they've just been sleeping through the day.
(voice-over) Because gorillas can catch human diseases...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait for the next one (ph).
COOPER: ... scientists limit the time they spend with them. So after only an hour and a half, it's time for us to go.
(on camera) What we're doing is looking -- going around the world looking at places that man is in conflict with nature and with natural resources and animals. Seems like Rwanda is a success story in many ways.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, there's still a lot of conflict, but there's a lot of Rwandans that they really care about the protection of the gorillas and they believe it's the conservation of Mountain Gorillas and take care of the natural resource.
COOPER (voice-over): This is a species still teetering on brink. But Rwanda's protection of these Mountain Gorillas is a lesson that conservation is possible. Even on the battle lines.
(on camera) We began this program by pointing out that over the next 40 years, the human population is expected to rise by 50 percent and that many of our natural resources are already dwindling.
Well, recently, the U.S. director of national intelligence said that, over the next 15 years or so, competition for those resources will likely lead to increased global conflict. The battle lines are drawn.
The question governments around the world now have to answer is how best to preserve the resources we have left through conservation, innovation and technology.
(voice-over) It's taken us a year to shoot this program. We want to bring you up to date on some of the stories and the people.
Responding to the militant group Men's Threads (ph), a commando with the Nigerian military said, if they waned to wipe out all of the militant's camps, they could do it in a few days. They're not doing that, though, because he said they would rather negotiate with men than fight them.
The woman Sanjay introduced us to, Mercedes Inga (ph), said she recently met for the first time with executives from the Dorun Peru (ph) Company about the loss of her daughter. She says at the meeting the company said it does not think it played a role in her daughter's death, but said it is willing to help relocate Mercedes and her family out of Laroja (ph).
And it's a mixed report for the Mountain Gorillas. In Rwanda, five Mountain Gorilla babies were born into research groups since our visit. Those infants are alive and well.
In neighboring Congo, however, it's a different story. Rebels continue to hold the gorillas' habitat and refuse to allow park rangers to visit them. The exact status of Congo's Mountain Gorillas remains unknown.
(on camera) I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for watching "Planet in Peril: Battle Lines." If you'd like to learn more, go to CNN.com/PlanetInPeril.