Every year, approximately 35,000 African elephants are killed for their ivory. If this trend continues, African elephants could be extinct in the wild in as few as 20 years.
Elephant populations were actually on the rise as recently as a decade ago, in the wake of a 1989 global ban on the ivory trade. After that measure met with some success, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) allowed for a “one-off” sale in 2008, permitting Chinese and Japanese markets to trade ivory obtained prior to 1989.
This unintentionally resulted in the rejuvenation of the ivory trade, given the great difficulty in determining what ivory was obtained before 1989 and what was obtained after. Poaching has now become a worse problem than it was prior to the 1989 ban.
Ivory is a lucrative source of financing for terrorist groups like the Lord's Resistance Army, which has inflicted mass violence in central Africa. Another example is the Somalian wing of Al Qaeda, Al-Shabab, which reportedly pulls in USD$600,000 a month from poaching.
Now, National Geographic Fellow Bryan Christy is taking an in-depth look at the global illegal ivory trade using a smuggled tusk with GPS tracker to follow a bloody trail leading to the doorsteps of Africa’s most dangerous terrorists.