The 1989 global ban on ivory trade was supposed to end the widespread slaughter of elephants in Africa — it hasn’t. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but by almost every estimate, poachers are now killing tens of thousands of elephants a year, more than at any time in the last two decades. Increasingly, the killers are armed militants seeking quick cash, and demand for smuggled ivory is strong. In Southeast Asia it remains a prized material for religious carvings, and in China it’s coveted by the newly enriched middle class. Please join us to discuss the illegal ivory trade and the future of Africa’s elephants.


  • Bryan Christy Investigative reporter and author of the October 2012 National Geographic article, "Ivory Worship."
  • Joyce Poole Co-founder of ElephantVoices.
  • Richard Ruggiero Chief of the Near East, South Asia and Africa branch in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service division of international conservation.
  • Robert Hormats Under Secretary of State for economic, energy and agricultural affairs.

Related Video

National Geographic Reporter Bryan Christy discovers how religion plays a role in the problem of ivory trafficking. From “Blood Ivory,” the October 2012 cover story of National Geographic magazine.


  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed across Africa every year. Their hacked-off tusks are smuggled to Southeast Asia and China. They're snapped up for religious carvings and status trinkets for middle-class Chinese.

  • 11:07:14

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the illegal ivory trade and the horrific consequences for Africa's elephants is Bryan Christy, investigative reporter and author of this month's National Geographic article, "Ivory Worship."

  • 11:07:32

    MS. DIANE REHMRichard Ruggiero, he's chief of international conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and joining us by phone from Norway, Joyce Poole, co-founder of ElephantVoices. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

  • 11:08:06

    MR. BRYAN CHRISTYGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:08:06

    MR. RICHARD RUGGIEROGood morning.

  • 11:08:06

    MS. JOYCE POOLEGood morning.

  • 11:08:08

    REHMBryan Christy, I'll start with you. Your article in this month's National Geographic is so vivid, is so strong. We do have a link to it on our own site along with photographs. If our listeners would like to go to, you can see that for yourself. Describe for our listeners what's going on.

  • 11:08:40

    CHRISTYWell, we begin the story with what's going on and that is an event that took place in January of this year. One hundred horsemen stormed into northern Cameroon for the purpose of poaching elephants for their ivory. They killed hundreds of elephants. And they killed the young. They killed the old. They killed family groups.

  • 11:09:03

    CHRISTYSeen from above, it lays out like the most horrific crime scene, human crime scene you can imagine and that scene is being played out across Africa. Ninety percent of the elephants, the dead elephants found in Central Africa for example, have been poached.

  • 11:09:26

    CHRISTYWe're seeing unprecedented levels of poaching and ivory trafficking, not seen since before the ivory ban.

  • 11:09:33

    REHMAnd why do you think this is on the increase right now?

  • 11:09:39

    CHRISTYThe primary driver without question is the growing middle class in China. The Chinese newly-wealthy are snapping up ivory as an investment primarily. And it is, you know, the scale of Chinese growth, to have any interest in any material in China can have an extraordinary impact on that resource and in this case, you're dealing in a scarcity and it becomes more valuable the more scarce it becomes. So it's a sort of perverse economics from the elephants' perspective.

  • 11:10:22

    REHMBryan Christy, investigative reporter and author of this month's National Geographic article titled "Ivory Worship." Turning to you, Richard Ruggiero, you've said we're experiencing the greatest percentage loss of elephants in history. Put this into perspective for us. What are the numbers?

  • 11:10:51

    RUGGIEROThe numbers are, of course, estimates and the farther in the past we try to estimate elephant numbers, the more difficult that becomes. But in previous years, the conventional wisdom was that there were between five and ten million elephants in Africa. We're speaking of, say, early in the 20th, mid-20th century, less, it's a historical number.

  • 11:11:15

    RUGGIEROCurrent numbers are thought to be in the vicinity of 400,000. So that's quite a loss. To put that in a sort of a country perspective, in 1980 what was then called Zaire had an estimated 350,000 to 400,000 elephants.

  • 11:11:35

    RUGGIEROIn recent years, let's say in the past two years, the estimate is that the entire country of the Democratic Republic of Congo has about 12,000 elephants. So essentially the numbers have gone from what is approximately now the continental estimate to 12,000 elephants in 40 years.

  • 11:11:55

    REHMRichard Ruggiero, he's chief of international conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And turning to you, Joyce Poole, who is doing the killing and how are they doing it?

  • 11:12:14

    POOLEWell, I think that varies very much from country to country. Even in Kenya, it varies. In some cases, it is people who have a fear and meet an elephant and spear it in conflict and then collect the ivory because it's valuable and they can sell it.

  • 11:12:36

    POOLEIn other cases, elephants are being blown up with landmines. Still other cases, you have members of al-Shabaab hunting elephants. So it really varies depending on the part of Africa that you're working or even within a national park you get different sorts of poachers working.

  • 11:13:03

    REHMAre they actually easy to kill from the hunter's perspective?

  • 11:13:12

    POOLEWell, I'm afraid they are, for the most part. Elephants are actually quite easy to get up close to if you know what you're doing. They have a very good sense of smell, but if the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can walk very close to them.

  • 11:13:35

    REHMWalk very close to them and perhaps even shoot with a rifle or something of that sort?

  • 11:13:43

    POOLEOr with a spear. For instance, where I'm working, most of the elephants are being killed with spears.

  • 11:13:53

    REHMJoyce Poole, she's co-founder of ElephantVoices. If you'd like to join us, call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Feel free to follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Bryan Christy is an investigative reporter. He's written an article for this month's National Geographic which is titled "Ivory Worship."

  • 11:14:30

    REHMThere's a link to that article on our website, Bryan Christy, if you're going after an elephant for its tusks, I gather you have to kill the elephant first or are there some who try to take the tusks while, for example, a young elephant might still be alive?

  • 11:15:04

    CHRISTYNo, that's a common misconception, that yes, the elephant tusks are teeth and you think, oh, perhaps we could remove the teeth and the elephant could live, but no, they, in all cases they kill the elephant to take the teeth, to take the tusks.

  • 11:15:23

    CHRISTYAnd they're doing it, as Joyce says, through horrendous means and those means include more recently poisoning the things that elephants eat, so poisoning water melons or poisoning pumpkins. And then, of course, the elephant dies, but then field rangers use vultures to identify where is a fallen elephant.

  • 11:15:45

    CHRISTYAnd so the poachers have begun poisoning the carcasses which then poisons the vultures to keep them out of the sky and then poisons all the animals who feed on the carcass. So you have these cascading concentric rings of death that emanate from a single dead carcass.

  • 11:16:02

    REHMAnd Richard, is there anyone out there who is trying to protect these elephants as, for example, these slaughters begin?

  • 11:16:15

    RUGGIEROWell, in some places, there are a lot of very effective protection efforts going on, Southern Africa, for example. You can say Botswana, as an example. It does a very good job of protecting their elephants. In fact, their populations continue to increase.

  • 11:16:32

    RUGGIEROAnd that's part of the problem, essentially that in other areas where the capacity of the countries or the political will is less, there are vast tracts of land where there is zero protection.

  • 11:16:44

    REHMBut Joyce, you focus particularly on elephants in Kenya. What about the elephant population there and whether there are any protections in place to try to halt the slaughter?

  • 11:17:01

    POOLEWell, certainly, Kenya probably has one of the more effective wildlife services on the continent and many of the parks where there are elephants have high numbers of tourists visiting and both of those give elephants protection. But in the Masai Mara, which is perhaps one of the most famous destinations, tourists destinations we are, you know, the figures are 89 percent of the mortality is due to illegal killings.

  • 11:17:37

    POOLENow that's really high and we lost, in the first three months of this year, 42 elephants that I know of to, you know, illegal deaths. And you know, just in the last few days, the numbers have been coming in. So here's a country that is -- whose elephants are very well protected and a population that has been extremely well protected through tourism and we are losing elephants very fast.

  • 11:18:12

    REHMAnd I would presume that's having an effect on tourism as well?

  • 11:18:20

    POOLEWell, hmm, the Mara is a big eco-system. So there's the Masai Mara National Reserve and then there's -- but the elephants roam over a very big area.

  • 11:18:31

    REHMJoyce Poole, she's co-founder of ElephantVoices. We'll take a short break here. We have lots of callers waiting. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the slaughter of elephants for their ivory. It's going primarily to parts of Asia, to China. Bryan Christy is an investigative reporter and author of an article in this month's National Geographic titled Ivory Worship. There is a link to that article with photographs on our website at Also here in the studio Richard Ruggiero. He's chief of international conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And joining us from Norway is Joyce Poole, cofounder of ElephantVoices.

  • 11:21:00

    REHMWe're going to open the phones shortly, but first, Joyce, I want to ask you how the elephants who survive are being affected by the trauma that they see around them.

  • 11:21:19

    POOLEWell, that's a good question. I mean, just the other day we lost my favorite matriarch and she was a leader of a family of five. And when we visited the Mara a few weeks ago we met her daughter, her oldest daughter standing alone under a tree. So that means the family of five most likely is now a family of one because these calves don't survive well without their mothers. Historically the data that has been collected in (word?) has shown that all calves below the age of two will die when -- if they're mothers die. And even up to the age of ten up to, you know, 48 percent may die.

  • 11:22:12

    POOLESo we're talking about real impact and I think that's the sort of hidden cost of this catastrophe that's happening to elephants because it's not just the ivory that you see in trade. It's the animals who die and are never counted.

  • 11:22:34

    REHMBryan Christy, how is this ivory sold? How is it dealt? Who's buying it? How's it being transported with the ban that was in place and the ban that's no longer in place?

  • 11:22:54

    CHRISTYWell, the ban -- technically the ban is in place. It's had two important exceptions over the years. One exception, they allowed a single sale in 1999 and then a second sale in 2008. And those sales, particularly the second one, has really changed the dynamic so that people are operating as if the ban were not in place. Or they are moving businesswise as if predicting that the ban will continue to fall. And that's a critical thing to keep in mind in terms of regulating and protecting elephants.

  • 11:23:33

    CHRISTYBut ivory is itself -- it's an incredibly heavy large object. And so to be able to move it consistently, which is what you have to do if you're in the ivory business you need a network. That means you need access to freight forwarders, shipping companies in the countries. To get it out of your port you need customs connections. And you...

  • 11:23:57

    REHMPeople who are looking the other way?

  • 11:23:59

    CHRISTYYes, that's right. Yeah. You need it in the field as well. You need -- in some places, rangers themselves are either corrupt or, you know, corruption is to some degree a matter of perspective. Some of these people are so poorly paid that it makes no economic sense for them not to poach elephants. And so that's on the one end.

  • 11:24:22

    CHRISTYOn the other end you have China, and the most obvious example, where it's a fantastic investment opportunity from their perspective. The prices are soaring. So, yes, it's a commercial scale business that is happening through corruption in the source countries and in the buying countries.

  • 11:24:49

    REHMRichard, how does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service get involved? What is your role? To what extent can the U.S. actively try to prevent this kind of occurrence?

  • 11:25:09

    RUGGIEROWe have essentially three roles. One of course is a policy and regulation role and that is through (word?) and the Endangered Species Act both of which can be very helpful. More directly the portion of Fish and Wildlife that I work in gives support through two major mechanisms to conservation on the ground in Africa and many other places in the world involving other species. But specifically we have, due to Congress's wisdom back in 1989, they produced the African Elephant Conservation Act. With that act is a fund that enables Fish and Wildlife to direct a bit less currently, a bit less than $2 million a year to activities in support of conservation on the ground.

  • 11:25:56

    RUGGIEROSecondly, we have a newer program which is our Africa regional program and that has a big more funding and enables us to deal with a broader spectrum of activities, landscape level rather than just species specific. But certainly in ways that benefit elephants and gorillas and other species.

  • 11:26:16

    REHMJoyce Poole, talk about ElephantVoices and the role that you see your organization playing in trying to address this slaughter?

  • 11:26:31

    POOLEYes, I think that, well, ElephantVoices kind of in a way in our name is the role of advocacy and public awareness. And that actually leads me onto a comment I wanted to make on your question to Bryan. I was around and played quite a big role in the original ban. I helped write the Appendix I proposal that Tanzania put forward at that time. And I was also involved in a public awareness campaign, the one that was, you know, only elephants should wear ivory.

  • 11:27:10

    POOLENow at the time we knew that a ban could only work if it went hand in hand with public awareness. And I get quite frustrated when people talk about the ban not working anymore because it isn't that the ban isn't working anymore. It's that there isn't a ban. If you start selling ivory, then the message has gone out to people that ivory is for sale and it's okay to buy ivory. And that's really, I feel, what has gone wrong.

  • 11:27:42

    POOLEAnd the only way to solve this is to have a proper ban and not have ivory being for sale and ivory carving markets opening up. It has to be one message and one very strong message. Otherwise this is just going to unravel. I mean, as Bryan said, the genie is out of the box. How are we going to get this back in? And it has to be a very strong message.

  • 11:28:11

    REHMAnd how did that genie get out of the box in the first place, Bryan?

  • 11:28:18

    CHRISTYIt got out because beginning in the late '90s three countries, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana argued for the right to sell their ivory and...

  • 11:28:29

    REHMFor economic...

  • 11:28:31

    CHRISTYThat's their argument. Their argument is for economic reasons and we'll put the money into conservation is the argument.

  • 11:28:37


  • 11:28:39

    CHRISTYWhether that happens or not has not been well monitored. And that was the first sale and it was called a Japan experiment. And nine years later, they allowed a second sale. And that second sale included China and Joyce is exactly right. That -- both have been characterized as two exceptions to a ban but for all intense and purposes that is the elimination of a ban.

  • 11:29:11

    CHRISTYBoth for -- I've met lots of people in the field who say, oh I think ivory is for sale. Ivory is legal now. People are using it in their criminal defenses now in court saying, yes I did it or I will acknowledge what evidence you've put forward but look at China or I read this news report and so I was confused. That was the defense in the Philippines and it's -- I know of a defense in the U.S. underway along those lines.

  • 11:29:40

    REHMSo people are being prosecuted for the poaching of ivory, but claiming we thought it was legal.

  • 11:29:50

    RUGGIEROCertainly in the United States the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that the ivory was knowingly imported illegally and that's a real problem. Just to reflect on what Bryan just said -- and this is an anecdote but I think is representative -- in 1997 when I was working in Congo Brazzaville on the border with several other countries, specifically Cameroon, when we heard on French international radio that there was a one off sale in the works, literally within 24 hours Senegalese traders that I knew who were friends of mine came very happily into my camp saying, we heard that ivory trade is now open again.

  • 11:30:37

    RUGGIERONow obviously that was a misinterpretation of the news. The news was properly presented but it was interpreted in such a way that people began collecting ivory again and moving it.

  • 11:30:49

    REHMAre there talks currently going on between the United States and China over the ivory issue, Richard?

  • 11:30:59

    RUGGIEROI'm not sure that I'm aware of all of the channels that, for example, our State Department who are very involved in conversations with China on a number of subjects including trade and economics and the environment. I think there are people who could answer that question more specifically but certainly one hopes that we increase the rhythm of conversation.

  • 11:31:21

    REHMJoyce, you talked about the demise of entire families of elephants when perhaps the matriarch is taken out. Recently we had on this program the woman who has begun this sort of haven for orphaned elephants who has said that sometimes the younger elephants -- or the older elephants adopt the younger ones. To what extent is that something you're trying to promote? To what extent can that be helpful?

  • 11:32:10

    POOLEYou're talking about -- I guess I'm not sure I understood, but you're talking about how often in the wild do other members of the family adopt?

  • 11:32:19


  • 11:32:20

    POOLEYes, that does take place, but still when elephants lose their mothers, there's a much -- you know, there's a much increased chance of mortality. Yes.

  • 11:32:36

    REHMI've seen photographs of the slaughter. It's absolutely horrendous and I'm sure you, Bryan, have seen these slaughtered elephants up close.

  • 11:32:54

    CHRISTYWhen I approached this project, I had done a lot of reading on the problem of ivory trade and we put a team together. And I said, look, it's important that we not get emotionally involved here. It's important that we approach this subject as a crime subject, and that's what it is. And so we came up with a policy and any time we wanted to use the word elephant or ivory, we used the word cocaine. And if you use the word cocaine to understand what's going on, you can immediately understand the economic drivers and the networks in a totally different way

  • 11:33:37

    CHRISTYAnd I tried very hard to -- I, in fact, did not feel I needed to go to Africa to understand this story. The consumption is all on the China side, or Asia for the most part. And a colleague convinced me to go to Africa. Look, you can't do this story without attaching -- being exposed to elephants. And seeing them in the wild changes everything. I mean, you can -- it breaks your heart.

  • 11:34:06

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Joining us now after this question that apparently many, many people have put forward is -- they're curious to understand if there are efforts to under -- to address the demand for ivory in China. Is there no way to shame the buyers and get them to stop seeing ivory as this status symbol, Richard?

  • 11:34:46

    RUGGIEROCertainly that is the most important goal and that is to deal with the primary cause of the problem which of course is the market. However, it doesn't take a very much a -- a very small percentage of people who are actually increasingly motivated to collect ivory because of its increasing rarity. That drives the price up. So, you know, these traffickers are very intelligent businessmen. And they're able to see that the availability will eventually decrease and the value of their stocks will go up. So it's a very complex problem and frankly one that we collectively do not have great answers to right now. We need to figure that out very fast.

  • 11:35:29

    CHRISTYI would add to that that it is the Chinese consumer, the wealthy Chinese consumer that is driving at a certain level. But the unspoken driver is actually the Chinese government. The Chinese government is the major player in the ivory trade. They -- at this 2008 auction, they're affiliate was the major buyer that traveled to auction -- to Africa and actually bought the ivory. All the ivory purchased in that 2008 sale went through the government to be distributed to even the nongovernment manufacturers. The government is funding ivory training programs to bring up a new generation of ivory carvers. It has built a new ivory carving factory, the largest factory in china.

  • 11:36:18

    REHMEven though the people realize that these elephants are being slaughtered in the process. They know all this.

  • 11:36:29

    CHRISTYThey know all this, yeah. Yeah, certainly the people in charge of this administration, the development of this capacity are very much aware. And Chinese government officials have said to me explicitly, either we get this ivory legally or we'll bring it in illegally. That is the reality of China and ivory.

  • 11:36:50

    REHMAnd clearly, Richard Ruggiero, the whole issue for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has got to be an effort not only to educate but bring to bear some of these issues not only on the Chinese government but on the Chinese people themselves.

  • 11:37:16

    RUGGIEROWell, certainly awareness is the first step in dealing with what was once a problem and now is obviously a crisis. That awareness is served by a radio program like this but it can also be done through government-to-government dialogues to increase focus on the problem.

  • 11:37:32

    REHMRichard Ruggiero. He's chief of international conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Short break here. Your calls when we come back.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMAnd joining us now from his office here in Washington, D.C. is Robert Hormats. He's Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment. Mr. Secretary, it's good to talk with you.

  • 11:40:20

    SECRETARY ROBERT HORMATSWell, it's a pleasure to be on your show again, Diane.

  • 11:40:22

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:40:23

    HORMATSThank you for inviting me.

  • 11:40:24

    REHMTell me how and in what ways this issue is important to the State Department and what you believe the U.S. government, through the Department of State, can do about it.

  • 11:40:40

    HORMATSWell, thank you. I'm delighted you're having this show because this is a crisis. There's no question about it. And it's important to the State Department and indeed to the United States and I would say the global community for several reasons, one of which is that this is wanton destruction of these beautiful animals. I spent a year in East Africa and you cannot really feel the moral outrage by not going there. I think your earlier speaker, who wrote this excellent piece on this question for National Geographic, Bryan Christy mentioned this.

  • 11:41:18

    HORMATSWhen you go there you see these elephants being killed, but it's not just elephants, unfortunately. It's elephants that have been subject to mass slaughter, most recently in Cameroon and there was one in Chad. I mean these are horrible things, but you're also seeing it in South Africa with elephants and also with rhinos, and this goes on and on and so that you're killing the national patrimony of these countries and the natural patrimony of these countries.

  • 11:41:47

    HORMATSSecond, these people are part of organized crime groups. These are not just individuals going out there and making a little money by shooting one or two elephants. They are well-equipped. When I was in South Africa I met with the Deputy President Motlanthe and she talked about helicopters, AK-47s. It's quite clear this is part of an organized crime and that money goes to organized crime. And it goes into other things that organized crime also participates in so it's a global problem of billions and billions of dollars.

  • 11:42:19

    HORMATSAnd third, it destabilizes governments because a lot of that money is used, in effect, to undermine the ability of governments to govern their own territories. I was in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. All of them are concerned about these poachers going in -- although, Botswana and Namibia so far haven't seen much of it there, but they fear it. And that is they go into pockets of the country that have difficulty with respect to governance and they further undermine stability.

  • 11:42:46

    HORMATSSo there are a wide range of issues that come up in this field. And the U.S. government and I have been spending a lot of time on this because of, you know, A, the sense of this is in the national interest to deal with in an urgent, crisis basis, and two, the sense of moral outrage. And part of the problem that was being discussed is it's on the supplier's side where you need to help these countries to develop a better capacity to address these issues, but in many cases they're outgunned and these poachers are organized and have a lot of fire power.

  • 11:43:22

    HORMATSSo a lot of the emphasis has to be on the receiving countries, the countries that buy this for a variety of reasons. China is the main one, but it's certainly not the only one and, you know, there are other countries, particularly in East Asia and Southeast Asia that are engaged in this either as final purchasers or as transition countries, where the goods go to that country and they may be reconfigured or carved and then they go to some other country so the ivory is transmitted…

  • 11:43:51


  • 11:43:52

    HORMATS…from say Vietnam to China. Although, some of it's still used in Vietnam, also.

  • 11:43:56

    REHMSo tell me what the U.S. is actually doing, as far as say just China is concerned, to try to dissuade that government from encouraging its citizens to buy up ivory.

  • 11:44:17

    HORMATSWell, we've done things throughout the region, but China, specifically, Secretary Clinton, herself, has raised this issue in a very recent meeting in Beijing with top officials of the government of China to underscore the importance of the Chinese government getting a hold of this. And…

  • 11:44:39

    REHMAnd what do they say in response? We always hear, well, Secretary Clinton said this or…

  • 11:44:47

    HORMATSYeah, no, no.

  • 11:44:47

    REHM…Secretary Hormats said that, but what do they say?

  • 11:44:52

    HORMATSWell, they respond that they have taken measures to deal with this, but I think -- and that's their response. Our response is that whatever they have done is inadequate and that they can do a great deal more. It's true that there's a lot of demand for this throughout China for a variety of reasons, traditional Chinese medicine or for things that they use for decorative purposes or to demonstrate your wealth, to have beautiful ivory carvings, all that stuff. But I think that they have responded that they are addressing this, they're concerned about it.

  • 11:45:34

    HORMATSBut they're involved in a whole series of groups, CIDIS in particular and others, where they have international obligations to do a lot more. And they need to address this in a much more purposeful and focused way and we have to continue to do this. Going at them and just lecturing them is only part of it, but we have to work them to help them to develop an understanding of why this is a very bad thing for them as part of the global economy and for them to enforce the laws that in some cases they have, and enforce the commitments that in many cases they made…

  • 11:46:18

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:46:18

    HORMATS…to protect these animals.

  • 11:46:19

    REHMAnd I know that you have to leave us shortly, but I'd like to…

  • 11:46:23

    HORMATSNo. I've got a little more time.

  • 11:46:25

    REHM…read you one email from a person in the department of geography at the University of Florida, who says, "This show, like much of the media, is oversimplifying the elephant-hunting issue in southern Africa. Botswana and Namibia for example, have elephants that are in conflict with people and in numbers that are unsustainable. Legal hunting in these countries enhances conservation and contributes to household income. Effective regulation and measurement can be used to manage elephants, something often missing in other parts of Africa." How do you respond to this, Secretary Hormats?

  • 11:47:21

    HORMATSI would say I was just in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa so I can speak to this because I asked this question. Namibia is a very good example. They have local conservation groups, community conservation efforts where they have a number of people in the village or in the region who take responsibility for the conservation of their animals, protecting their animals and work with the National Wildlife authorities and others to protect the animals.

  • 11:47:54

    HORMATSAnd there are examples of some legal hunting of animals and some culling. But I would hasten to point out that while it is a complex issue, the first point that this emailer wrote is wrong. And that is, in Namibia for instance, I asked specifically, do you have wildlife-human conflicts from time to time, where the -- and elephants do trample on farmland, they do, but they made a very clear point. They do not see the answer to this as killing those elephants. They see the answer to this as proper protection of the animals in game reserves and in other places so that the animals don't trample on farmland.

  • 11:48:46

    HORMATSAnd once in awhile they do get out and they do trample on farmland, but no one there that I talked to advocated killing the elephants or the other wildlife for that reason. They advocated better conservation, these sorts of community conservancies working better to make sure that there was, like the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, some protection between the cattle and the animals so the animals wouldn't kill the cattle.

  • 11:49:13

    REHMAll right. And Joyce Poole, who is co-founder of ElephantVoices, has a comment.

  • 11:49:21

    POOLEI just wanted to comment also on the email. And that is that what a country does in terms of managing its elephants, whether through sport hunting or culling or human-elephant conflict is that country's business, but once it decides to put ivory onto the international market it is an international issue. and that's a separate thing. So how it manages its elephants doesn't mean that you have to put the ivory on the market.

  • 11:49:48

    REHMAll right. And Robert Hormats, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, I want to thank you so much for joining us and I hope that the State Department will continue to pursue this issue.

  • 11:50:10

    HORMATSYou can count on that because this is a very passionate issue from my point of view and the Secretary's. And this is a very high priority so we work very closely with various NGOs and we will continue to do that. And our door is open for any suggestions on how we can do a better job. It is very complicated, but it is urgent. It's a moral issue and it's also an issue of organized international crime and has to be dealt with on various levels. We're working with supplier countries, but also working particularly with countries that are either transmission countries or final-demand countries. It's an urgent crisis.

  • 11:50:44

    REHMWhat do you think that we, as ordinary listeners to this conversation, can do?

  • 11:50:53

    HORMATSI think ordinary listeners can be more aware than many people are of the size of the problem. We're talking about billions of dollars of trade in this area, first of all. Second, supporting efforts by NGOs and by the federal government of the United States to take tougher action in support of training wildlife rangers and people who are attempting to deal with this in South Africa and Cameroon, Cambodia, et cetera. But also we need to be aware and spread the awareness around the world that these ideas of using rhino horn and things like that for medicinal purposes are just not right.

  • 11:51:34

    HORMATSThe head of the National Cancer Institute's, Harold Varmus, a friend of mine, he wrote a very good piece that's circulated all over saying, "Rhino horn does not cure cancer." I think for the medical community and the NGO community and the government to work together to debunk some of the myths about, for instance, traditional medicines, but also to raise the level of this as a global moral issue. And with Twitter and with all these other things going, you know, social media -- for young people in particular to talk about this with young people around the world, that's our hope.

  • 11:52:08

    HORMATSA lot of entrenched crime elements are doing this on the buying and the selling side. We need a sense of moral outrage, particularly among younger people, saying this is unacceptable. And religious groups should play a role. This article was very significant. It talked about the religious uses of this and it really worried me because it seems to me religion should, if anything, be in the forefront in the effort to preserve our environment and preserve the magnificent creatures, not to be used for the pretext for killing them.

  • 11:52:40

    HORMATSSo I would hope that religious moral groups, NGOs could work together to address this scourge. And Americans particularly should be involved and young people, with their friends and colleagues around the world and global NGOs also are key elements to this success.

  • 11:52:57

    REHMBob Hormats…

  • 11:52:57

    HORMATS… (unintelligible) government leadership.

  • 11:52:59

    REHM…thank you so much for joining us.

  • 11:53:02

    HORMATSBye, bye, thanks.

  • 11:53:03

    REHMBye. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Bryan, you wanted to add something.

  • 11:53:09

    CHRISTYWell, Bob picked up on it right there at the end. One of the exciting parts about this story, one of the things we uncovered, was the role of religion around the world as a major consumer. In the Philippines, Catholics are carving ivory into Catholic images at a surprising scale. Similar things were happening in Thailand and many of the high-end carvings in China are religious or mythological motifs. And that really hasn’t been explored before. And what it offers is a very exciting opportunity for the West, where we don't have a big ivory trafficking problem, to be involved.

  • 11:53:55

    CHRISTYAnd religious or spiritual groups pursuing their core principles, respect for life, honesty, anticorruption, these sorts of principles, can be celebrated by people here and ask their leaders to take a leadership role in these countries where it's a problem.

  • 11:54:17

    REHMBut lots of these ivory figures have been carved into religious figures, have they not?

  • 11:54:26

    CHRISTYIt's astounding, particularly in the Philippines. Almost the entire ivory market in the Philippines is Catholic images, the Madonna, the Holy child. And there are…

  • 11:54:41

    REHMThe Christ figure.

  • 11:54:42

    CHRISTY…Christ figure, yeah, crucifixes, yes.

  • 11:54:45

    REHMHere's an email from John in Goshen, Ind. who says, "When we were teachers in the Republic of Congo, from 1965 to '67, we received, then brought home, a 12" high carved ivory tusk. We still have it. What should we do with it now, Richard?"

  • 11:55:12

    RUGGIEROWell, let's first touch on what you shouldn't do with it. This is forest elephant ivory from Congo, obviously it's a forest zone. And realize there are two species of elephants, forest and savannah, genetically speaking. And practically all forest elephants are endangered and they cannot be legally traded, but what you're talking about is what we call pre-convention ivory. That is before the ban, which was 1989. So having it in the country from that period is fine.

  • 11:55:40

    RUGGIERONow, what you cannot do is sell it across a state border or try to leave the country with it or send it out of the country without a permit. What you can or should do with it, perhaps, since you're both former teachers is to use it as a teaching aid. Put a photograph of it on Facebook, use it as an opportunity to tell visitors to your home that they have before them basically an image, the motivation for what we're seeing. And so I think there's a lesson in it that you can share with your friends and other audiences.

  • 11:56:11

    REHMJoyce Poole, what are some of the tools that you have at your disposable to try to educate people about what's happening there in Africa and elsewhere about this horrendous problem?

  • 11:56:32

    POOLEWell, we are very, very active online, so on Facebook and so on, and Twitter. So that's what we do. And we just try to get every article of significance out there and share it with our audience. And we have something like 15,000 followers now, but hopefully -- we have to reach China and that means we have to rely on the people who follow us.

  • 11:57:01

    REHMJoyce Poole, she's co-founder of ElephantVoices. Richard Ruggiero, he's chief of international conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bryan Christy is the investigative reporter and the author of this month's National Geographic article, "Ivory Worship." You will find a link to that article and photographs on our website,, drshow. Thank you all so much. Let's hope the message is there. I'm Diane Rehm.

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