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Illegal ivory trade exposed on TV tonight

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:45 PM

Bryan Christy's investigative article for the October issue of National Geographic, exposing the scourge of the illegal ivory trade, is the basis for the documentary "Battle for the Elephants" airing at 9 tonight on PBS.

At 49, the writer has carved out a journalistic niche, exposing the underbelly of international exotic-animal smuggling.

His 2008 book, "The Lizard King," traced the life of one of Earth's most powerful wildlife traffickers.

After it was published, Christy wanted to focus on an endangered species, with rhinos, tigers and elephants as candidates.

A tip about how ivory was being used to make religious icons in the Philippines, he says, led him to write "Blood Ivory" for National Geographic.

In the course of his research, he met with a Catholic priest, Cristobal Garcia, who showed him a trove of ivory religious figures. Garcia left Los Angeles in the 1980s after being accused of molesting altar boys, a charge he denied, and returned to his hometown of Cebu in the Philippines, where he is now a monsignor.

Christy's three-year investigation revealed the political and religious roots of the illegal ivory trade that, despite a 1989 ban, he reported, was causing the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants every year.

He spins tales of his adventures, like knocking on the steel gates of a smuggler's compound in rural Kenya, wearing a hidden camera in his eyeglasses to record a woman offering to sell illegal ivory in China.

"I tend to like bad guys more than the good guys," he says. He gets frustrated with well-intentioned nonprofit groups and government agencies that seem blind to their failures.

Bad guys, at least, are under no delusions that what they are doing is wrong, he says.

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