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Struggle For Survival In The Jungle; A Closer Look At Asia's Booming Ivory Market; Trail Of Tears: Stemming The Flow Of Blood Ivory

Aired August 06, 2013 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to a special edition of our program. Tonight, the struggle for survival in the jungle.

African elephant populations are facing the most serious crisis in decades. Conservationists estimate that 25,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2011. Poaching levels that haven't been seen in more than 10 years.

In many parts of the continent, murder rates now exceed population growth, putting elephants at risk of extinction. The gruesome killing sprees in Africa are actually fueled by soaring demand for ivory across the globe, particularly in China.

And in a moment, we'll take a closer look at Asia's booming ivory market with National Geographic reporter Bryan Christy, who investigated this illegal trade for the documentary he made, "Battle for the Elephants."

But first, to the scene of the crime in Africa, where poachers are looking more and more like soldiers on the front lines. They're using machine guns and helicopters to track and kill elephants and also rhinos. They shoot from the sky.

Jeffrey Gettleman of "The New York Times" has been documenting this new kind of battlefield for years. I talked to him just before he went off on another assignment into the African bush.


AMANPOUR: Jeffrey Gettleman, thank you so much for joining me from Nairobi. Your work has been amazing. We all thought this poaching crisis had sort of stabilized and yet now this incredible spike.

What has made it so bad over the last few years?


And what's interesting is a lot of these economies are becoming more modern, more sophisticated, more advanced, like China, Vietnam, other parts of Asia, but they still adhere to traditional beliefs.

And in many parts of Asia, ivory and rhino horn powder are valued for ceremonial purposes, for religious purposes, cultural purposes and that is creating a huge demand for ivory and rhinoceros horn across Africa. It's like the war on drugs. There's such a big demand coming from outside Africa for these products.

And the price of ivory now is, you know, has reached the stratospheric levels of $1,000 per pound. So most people I talk to say the answer is curbing the demand and somehow persuading people in Asia that they shouldn't be buying ivory, that to buy ivory means you're killing elephants.

And even more than elephants, you're killing people. And that's something else that I've discovered in the course of these stories is that this isn't just about animals. A lot of lives are getting lost in the effort to protect animals.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play you a little clip, in fact, from one of your online documentaries about this, in which you document the really unfair fight between the rangers and these increasingly militarized poachers.


GETTLEMAN: Just a few months ago, Paul (ph) and his men stumbled upon a group of South Sudanese poachers at this carcass site.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Out of all the contact, that day I was scared. In fact, I thought I was well organized. I could not imagine that poachers could make me withdraw. There was no alternative.


AMANPOUR: So there's this guy in helmet and carrying a gun, a ranger in Congo, saying that those people who were looking and killing these elephants way outgunned him.

What happened there?

GETTLEMAN: Well, a couple things. I mean, one is that a lot of these rangers that are trying to protect the animals, that they're not -- they're not military people. They're not soldiers. They're ecorangers. They know a lot about the environment, about animal behavior. But they don't necessarily know a lot about infantry tactics.

And they're up against hardened soldiers, who've been drawn into this ivory trade because the profits are so high. And that's what I discovered, is that you have government armies, like the Ugandan army and the South Sudanese army, the Congolese army.

And a lot of these are American allies. The American government is giving these armies money and training. And on the side, they're going off and poaching elephants.

At the same time, you have rebel groups, some of the most notorious rebel groups in Africa or anywhere in the world, like the Lord's Resistance Army that originated in Uganda, they have now gravitated up to Congo.

And they're slaughtering elephants, trying to use the ivory to fund their mayhem. And that's what's happening. Ivory has become so valuable that it's becoming a conflict resource.

AMANPOUR: A little bit like conflict diamonds.

And we've got these really tragic pictures of elephant carcasses, of elephants without their tusks. And they are disturbing.

What can the United States do? You're talking about armies like Uganda, funded and really helped, actually aiding and abetting this kind of thing.

And how are these armies doing that? I understand there are AK-47s and helicopters.

GETTLEMAN: Well, it's a lot of things. I mean, elephants happen to live in remote areas where there are not a lot of people. And in central Africa, a lot of those areas are completely lawless. There's no government control. They're wide open spaces that are basically free-for-alls. So these armies and rebel groups just go into these areas, do what they want, slaughter the elephants.

I wrote about an incident where 22 elephants were found together, all of them killed, including some small, you know, baby elephants, maybe 1 or 2 years old, with little teeny stubs of ivory in their faces. And it looked like, from all the evidence, that these elephants had been killed by a helicopter.

And the only people with helicopters in this part of Africa are these African militaries.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the detection methods. We read about an increase in seizures, in airports such as, I don't know, Hong Kong, Malaysia.

How much are they cracking down in terms of importing and customs?

And how sophisticated are the smugglers getting in trying to conceal these shipments?

GETTLEMAN: Well, that's a really good question and something I left out.

A lot of this turns on corruption. The only way to move large amounts of ivory after you've killed the elephants through these different African countries, thousands of miles into the markets of Asia, is by bribing off officials all along the way. And there's a lot of evidence that there are -- there are, you know, corruption is playing a big role in this ivory trade.

Now at the same time, these criminals are getting more organized. It's like the Colombian drug lords using submarines to bring in cocaine to the United States. You know, I've heard stories about ivory packed in boxes of chili peppers so that the sniffing dogs at the airports that look for ivory would be thrown off by the scent of chilies.

I've also heard of ivory being tied to the anchor of a ship at port so when the custom authorities board the ship and start opening up containers and looking for illicit goods, the ivory's actually hidden underwater along the anchor chain. And then the guys haul it up and put it back on the ship after the customs officials leave.

We're talking about huge amounts of money.

AMANPOUR: Huge amounts of money, as you say, and it's incredible, these methods that they're going to and these lengths.

And we have these unbelievable pictures of rhinos being airlifted out of danger zones. Rhino horn, I understand, is now even more expensive than gold.

Some of the schemes that you write about, of people coming to hunt these.

How does that work?

GETTLEMAN: It's really almost too much to believe. I mean, rhino horn is now worth $65,000 a kilogram, which is more than cocaine, more even than the price of gold. And the reason why is people in Vietnam believe rhino horn can cure cancer. And they are willing to spend whatever it takes to get their hands on ground-up rhino horn powder.

And I wrote about this case in South Africa, where this one ring, this Asian gang was using prostitutes to pose as big game hunters. And these women would go out on these safaris and take pictures next to these dead rhinos. And in South Africa, it's actually legal to hunt rhinos in certain conditions.

So these Asian gangs were using these women to increase the number of rhinos they could get and then cutting off the horns and shipping them to Asia to sell for a cure for cancer.

And there's been this huge effort to try to educate people and say, hey, listen, actually, rhino horn can't cure cancer. But it just seems to be falling on deaf ears.

AMANPOUR: Getting back to the United States, the U.S. has military officials, it has soldiers in Africa, some of them to help the Ugandans; some of them to track down Joseph Kony of the Lord's Resistance Army.

But they also have equipment.

Can they not be enjoined in this battle?

Can they not put up their helicopters and, I mean, make it a real battle to stop these poachers?

GETTLEMAN: Well, that was one thing that we looked into. And we asked the Defense Department. We said, hey, listen; you're on the ground in these areas where these elephants are getting killed.

Do you have any flight records of the helicopters?

Do you have any information about who was flying where when?

Because we're talking about the middle of Africa where nobody else is really watching. But the sense I got was the U.S. missions in Africa are pretty tightly focused, like going after the Shabaab Islamic group in Somalia, and helping African allies do that, or helping African allies go after Joseph Kony in the jungles of Congo.

And so I just -- I got the sense that it was -- you know, this is an issue that's just emerging right now and there really hasn't been a clear response of how to get -- how to get your arms around this and prevent people from slaughtering these elephants.

AMANPOUR: Jeffrey Gettleman, thank you very much for joining me with this very important story.

GETTLEMAN: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And after a break, we'll follow the trail of tears that leads from wholesale slaughter in the African wild to the docks of Hong Kong and the marketplace in mainland China.

Stemming the flow of blood ivory when we come back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

And as we've been saying, this explosion in ivory hunting really comes as a surprise, because for so many years, we believed that this was taken care of when ivory was banned.

However now if you want to protect Africa's elephants from poachers who are slaughtering them for their tusks all over again, you'd actually have to start half a world away in Asia. China's ivory business is booming. It's fueled by a growing middle class whose demand for the ivory is soaring.

"National Geographic" reporter Bryan Christy investigated the illegal trade for his documentary, "Battle for the Elephants." We talked about it when he joined me here in the studio.


AMANPOUR: Bryan Christy, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: This is an incredibly important story, so really, I'm so glad you're here.

Give me the scale of China's demand for this ivory now.

CHRISTY: Well, China is 1.3 billion people -- and so the smallest fashion interest in China resonates across the world. And in the case of the African elephant, it's leading to just a bloodbath across the continent.

We're seeing unprecedented levels of killing across Africa. Ninety percent of those elephants found in Central Africa -- dead elephants found -- have been poached. We're seeing -- there was just a study out; 62 percent of a little species called the forest elephant, a smaller elephant, have been killed over the last 10 years. It's just terrible.

AMANPOUR: There used to be -- I mean, I remember; we thought we got a grip on this ivory trade. There's this famous picture of the president of Kenya, torching a whole stack of tusks.


AMANPOUR: What happened --


AMANPOUR: -- between then and now?

CHRISTY: So then was the 1980s. In the 1980s, the African elephant population dropped from 1.3 million to 600,000 in a decade. And as a result, President Bush was one of the first leaders around the world to say we ban ivory. Americans stood up; they also said we won't buy ivory. Fashion models and things in Hollywood said we won't use it, either.

That voice spread across the country and the president of Kenya said we will burn our ivory. And he burned in 1989 and that launched this global consensus that ivory is inappropriate to buy and the international organization known as CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species imposed a ban.

And that lasted for a while, but --

AMANPOUR: What broke it?

CHRISTY: The Southern African countries have fairly healthy elephant populations and a long history of ivory trade. And they said, look, we should not be penalized because Kenya can't protect its ivory, elephants or Tanzania can't protect.

So South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, they said we want to sell. And in 1999, they were allowed a one-time opportunity to sell. They called it an experiment. Three of those countries sold 50 tons of ivory to Japan. They tried to measure what impact that might have. They were uncertain what that impact was.

And China said, "Now we want to buy." In 2008, they allowed a second sale. And when you sell ivory to China you create a cover for ivory trade and you signal to the Chinese people that ivory is OK. And now it's gone off the charts.

AMANPOUR: So let's look at this map, because as we've been talking, the supply starts here in Africa.

Which are the main supply countries?

CHRISTY: Right. So you will see a whole swath of ivory right across the center of Africa. And then it's leaving in large part through Kenya and Tanzania.

AMANPOUR: And Uganda?

CHRISTY: And Uganda is a supply country, exactly.

AMANPOUR: So it's leaving; it's going over here to what we all call middleman. That's what, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines?

CHRISTY: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: And what do they do there?

CHRISTY: So in some cases they are just pure middlemen. They're just the pure transit country. And in other cases they have their own consumer markets. The Philippines, a surprising part of my investigation, revealed that the Philippines has a population of Catholics who carve the ivory into religious figures.

AMANPOUR: And that's a boom trade over there.

CHRISTY: It's significant and --

AMANPOUR: And then the rising middle class in China have decided that this is a symbol of success.

CHRISTY: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about part of your film. We're going to show a little clip, where you go to the container point, the container port in Hong Kong in search of these -- of these shipments. I'm going to play it and then you can tell me about it.


CHRISTY: In the container port of Hong Kong, 60,000 containers arrive each day. Customs agents inspect fewer than 1 percent. It's a smuggler's dream.

You can almost feel the scale of elephant poaching here as you look out on these containers, massive containers. Somewhere in here there's a container with ivory. You can almost feel it. You can almost grab a tusk.


AMANPOUR: It's incredible to see that. And they really are sort of hidden.


AMANPOUR: But, as you say, you can kind of sniff them out.

How do shops and stores get away with selling them?

CHRISTY: Well, so this is part of the complex nature. Once you legalize, once you said to China it's OK to have this one-time purchase, the Chinese government -- and that's important to keep in mind -- this isn't China in general.

This is the -- an empowered consumer plus the Chinese government. The Chinese government is the major player here. They own the largest ivory carving factory. They were the major buyer in Africa in 2008. They own retail shops. And so it really is a government issue.

AMANPOUR: So how does one combat it now?

CHRISTY: Well, that's a great question. You know, one of the things -- first things I noticed as an -- I'm a criminal investigator. I'm not an elephant person.

One of the first things I noticed about the ivory trail and the ivory problem was, unlike the drug world -- in the drug world, we would never have put botanists in charge of policing the drug world, even though cocaine is a plant, heroin is a plant. But we put wildlife people in charge of policing ivory crime.

AMANPOUR: So you need to put law enforcement --

CHRISTY: You need to put -- exactly.

AMANPOUR: And I've heard it even described by the U.S. State Department as akin to organized crime, the kind of crime that leads to the slaughter of these animals and the eventual delivery to the consumer as organized crime.

CHRISTY: Well, absolutely. The surprising thing is that they've taken so long to call it organized crime. It's clearly organized crime. I mean, ivory is big. It's physically large. You need connections to be able to move something that large and heavy clandestinely across the world like this.

AMANPOUR: So as a investigator -- you're a criminal investigator, you said.


AMANPOUR: What do you suggest?

What is the solution?

CHRISTY: So part of the answer is not uninvestigated. And part of the answer is to engage China.

I was a Washington, D.C., lawyer for a time, and this is the sort of question a Washington, D.C., lawyer loves.

You've got a small number of people in China causing a major problem for others. So you've got -- I mean, the numbers here are important. The -- we have 35 registered carving factories in China. That's all; 135 registered retail shops. Only 300 or 400 registered known carvers. It's a very small number of people imposing an incredible cost on Africa.

And this is not just dead elephants. We have corruption throughout Africa. It's killing the economies of countries that really rely on tourism. All this -- and rangers are dying in the field.

AMANPOUR: Given China's incredible economic intertwining with many African nations right now, does that make it more difficult for Africans who want to stand up to this poaching and this trade?

CHRISTY: To me, the more connected countries are, the more leverage you have to achieve your end. That --

AMANPOUR: So they should be standing up and saying to the Chinese, you want to invest here, then play ball on our ivory.

CHRISTY: Absolutely. Yes. I mean, that makes sense. And it makes sense that China would want to do that.

AMANPOUR: So do you see an end in sight?

Do you see another situation whereby we did have an effective ban on ivory?

CHRISTY: History says the only solution is a ban, a ban plus law enforcement with real teeth.

Right now, the law enforcement -- the level of law enforcement is just really shockingly low. I mean, that we could make major revelations in this story as complete newcomers -- all we have is a criminal background.

And you can shine a new light on this. This should have been fixed in this way a long time ago.

AMANPOUR: Bryan Christy, thank you very much for joining me.

CHRISTY: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And after a break while the Chinese have an insatiable appetite for blood ivory, they are also ironically the dedicated protectors of one of nature's most adorable endangered creatures -- panda-monium, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, the paradox that is China: while the lust for blood ivory has led to the wholesale slaughter of elephants in Africa, the Chinese love affair with cuddly creatures has helped save this one from extinction.

Imagine a world where panda-monium reigns. There was cause for celebration at a research base in Szechuan province as seven new panda cubs were introduced to the world and its insatiable appetite for anything panda.

There was even an Internet contest to name the cubs. Almost a million people went online to name Oreo, the oldest cub, which was born last July on the opening day of the London Olympics, where, incidentally, China came in second to the United States with 88 medals -- but we understand the pandas are still doing well, growing bigger and fatter than usual.

Now the panda keepers often dress like pandas themselves and they even smear themselves with panda urine so that when the pandas are released back into the wild, they're better able to adapt.

Now if only China could share some of that love that it has for pandas with Africa's endangered elephants and give them a chance for live in the wild as well.

That's it for this special edition of our program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.