illegal ivory
tom hanson
May 14, 2014

The Ivory Trade


Scott: Look at the clock. By the time you finish watching today’s show, an elephant will have died at the hands of a poacher – and, no, not for food or out of protection, but for the elephant’s valuable tusks, which can be sold for top dollar. Today, Tom Hanson takes us to the streets of Rwanda in East Africa to investigate the dark side of ivory.

Tom: On the capital streets of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. We are at an underground market. No cameras are allowed, so we have to use my cell phone to tape.

Do you have any ivory from an elephant?

Vendor: No. Ivory in Rwanda is impossible.

Tom: Ivory from the tusks of an elephant was outlawed back in the 1980s but it is still being sold illegally – part of a billion dollar industry that trades animal parts.

We get a lead on an ivory smuggler who is willing show us his stash. He plans on selling it at the market we just visited.

Ivory smuggler: Buy it and we will make it. Anything you want.

Tom: He won’t give us his name or any information about himself. He has only brought about $1,000 worth of ivory. Not much in America, but in this region of the world – a region plagued by extreme poverty – the vast majority of people live on just $2 to $3 a day. To them, this is a fortune.

If you know it causes bad things, why do you sell it?

Ivory smuggler: I have to be able to support the family.

Tom: So, you would risk going to jail to support your family?

Ivory smuggler: Yeah.

Tom: Just one pound of ivory can sell for a thousand dollars in China, where 70% of illegal ivory is sold. But another big buyer is the U.S. And demand is on the rise.

In New York City, ivory isn’t hard to find. Some is sold legally, but only if the seller can prove that the ivory is antique and was collected before the international ban.

This is also ivory as well?

The masterfully carved sculptures in these showcases range from hundreds all the way to millions of dollars.

Look, $2,000 for that one.

But law enforcement officials tell us many of these shops are a front for the underground trade and not all the ivory they sell is legal. And when someone buys illegal ivory, that money could be funding extremist groups and terrorists. That is why the U.S. has recently started cracking down on the trade.

In 2012, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a large ivory bust right here in New York City, seizing more than $2 million worth.

Expert: This represents one of the largest ivory seizures in the United States.

Tom: And in November, the U.S. destroyed around 6 tons of confiscated ivory, nearly all of it stockpiled.

Expert: Was it a good statement? Yeah, sure it was. At the same time, that crushing just made the remaining tusks more valuable.

Tom: Three months ago, the Obama administration launched a new effort to crack down on the sale of wildlife parts.

This is a big warehouse.

Tom: Much of what is confiscated ends up here at an unmarked government warehouse in Oregon.

Wow! You have everything in here!

Inside, millions upon millions of dollars worth of smuggled animal products – tiger claws, exotic birds and furs, mounted heads of antelopes and ivory. Lots of ivory. More than 2,000 pounds.

After the animal parts are seized, the investigation begins at a forensics lab in Ashland, Oregon.

Ken Goddard: This is our toxicology lab over here.

Tom: Ken Goddard is a scientist here at the lab. He shows me some ivory tusks that were recently found by the international police on their way out of Africa.

This is a dense tusk.

The evidence is clear. This tusk came from an elephant shot by poachers.

Tom: And so, these right here are bullet holes?

Goddard: Mmm-hmm. Bullet impacts.

Tom: Just one example of what these elephants endure.

The brown color on these tusks…that is not dirt. That is actually dried blood that came from the elephant when the tusks were hacked out after it was brutally killed.

But the investigation is far from over.

Goddard: A standard thing you do in crime scene investigations is you attempt to link suspect, victim and crime scene together with physical evidence. Our victim is just a non-human animal.

Tom: Scientists test the tusks for pollen, hair samples and soil deposits. Even fingerprints. It is straight out of an episode of CSI.

Goddard: Well, there isn’t really a need for forensics unless you want to try to figure out who’s been handling the ivory.

Tom: From poachers to smugglers to buyers, almost anyone taking part in the trade.

Goddard: We have to stop the demand. If we stop the demand, there’s absolutely no reason why they would go out there and risk their lives to poach an animal.

Tom: So, if you stop the demand, you stop the supply.

Goddard: Sure.

Tom: Easier said than done.

Goddard: They’re worth too much money to save. That’s a sad thing to say.

Tom: So, that is $50,000 or $60,000 that I am holding in my hands right now.

Goddard: It just too much money. The animals are wandering around out in the open in Africa. And Africa’s a big place.

Tom: Tomorrow, we head back to that big place to see what the ivory boom means for Kenya’s youngest elephants.

Tom Hanson, Channel One News.

Scott: For a timeline of the history of the ivory trade, go to


One comment on “The Ivory Trade

  1. Sophie

    This selling of ivory is horrible. I can’t believe that someone would do that to harmless creatures for money!!! I do understand that these people in poverty need money, but this is not the way to go about it. Thank you so much for revealing this on your show, because something has to be done!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>