Dr. Sam Wasser: Ivory is essentially an incisor tooth that has evolved into a tusk.
Female: Man has carved ivory into beautiful objects and traded it since the Stone Age.
Dr. Sam Wasser: The drive for ivory just seems to be the fact that it comes from a very majestic animal.
Female: So majestic and hard not to miss, in fact, that the ivory poaching wars in Africa during the 70s and 80s killed many of them off.
Dr. Sam Wasser: Elephants went from 1.3 million to 600,000 in ten years. And that loss of 700,000 just surprised the world.
Female: In 1989, Kenya burned 12 tons of elephant tusks in a dramatic protest to persuade the world to halt the ivory trade. Some say it was a publicity stunt.
But later that year, 115 countries voted in favor of an international ban on the trade of ivory.
Along with the ban came strong international support for wild life law enforcement.
Michael Wamithi: To address the issue of run-away poaching, which was decimating wildlife, a crack unit was recruited and trained. We weakened the strong networks that had gained root over time in Kenya so it became more expensive to get involved in the wildlife traffic so it became more expensive to get involved in wildlife trafficking, and it really went down.
Between 1990 and 1996 we were able to be in control of our national parks. And that system is still in place.
Female: After the ivory ban went into effect, African-elephant population seem to stabilize with some countries even reporting overpopulation of herds. But the illegal ivory trade is still with us and takes its toll on more than just elephants.
In the past years, three Kenyan wildlife rangers and four poachers were killed in a shootout in the Tana River District.
Julius Kipng’etich: The manhunt for the poachers is still on. There were seven, we killed four. What happens is that during the rainy season, usually poaching activity goes up. So, this is a cyclic thing. They come usually at these times.
Female: There’s more. The past six years of have seen a steady increase in the tonnage of ivory being seized in cargo containers in different parts of the world.
The first inkling known was a major problem was a container seized in Singapore back in 2002 in a case that is still ongoing.
The story began in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.
Dr. Lewis Saiwana: The information that I had received was there were some Chinese in Malawi who were running around collecting ivory from Eastern province taking the ivory to Malawi so I supported the investigations by the officers on the ground.
Undercover Agent: What we do is we’ll collect data, put it together. This is — for the letter of ivory collection and the connecting syndicate.
Female: Painstaking undercover work revealed an elaborate poaching syndicate.
Undercover Agent: We have some documents that would show the weights and the values of all the ivory —. There was evidence of having to change hands on 28th March 1994, 14th of the September 1996.
Female: The data suggested the syndicate had been killing Zambian elephants for at least the past eight years. They smuggle the tusks across the border into neighboring Malawi. Hidden workshops would partially carve and package the ivory to shipment to the Far East.
Coordinating their efforts, Malawian and Zambian wildlife authorities raided one such illegal workshop in 2002.
Alphius Lipiya: When this syndicate issue came about, we decided to go and check on them. When we went there, we found quite a number of tusks.
They had a room where they were poaching the ivory and most probably where they were loading the — and that’s when we should know this guy is not good. We should arrest him and we confiscate all that he has — in terms of all these ivory pieces. This could have been from — close to 10 or 20 elephants just this load here.
Female: The ivory waste materials suggested this facility was punching out personal signature stamps, Hankos as they are known in Japan. They were then shipped overseas.
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