National Geographic : 2012 Oct
EDITOR'S NOTE PHOTO: I. M. CHAIT THIS 44 INCH LONG CHINESE PHOENIX, CARVED IN THE 1920S, IS ONE OF A PAIR OF TUSKS THAT SOLD IN THE U.S. FOR $24,400. Blood Ivory The slaughter is massive and accelerating. In an exclusive luxury-goods shop in Beijing, I watch a Chinese couple admire an elaborate ivory carving selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. They see the exquisitely made object as an affirmation of personal wealth. I see carnage and death. I can smell the death too. About 15 years ago, on assignment in Zimbabwe, I photographed a group of rotting African elephant carcasses---the tragic remains of a family massacred for ivory. Every year at least 25,000 elephants are killed by poachers for their tusks to feed the hunger of ivory collectors and the market for religious objects. The slaughter is massive and accelerating. The very existence of these magnificent beasts is at risk. The fate of elephants has become an obses- sion for investigative reporter Bryan Christy. He has been digging into this story for more than two years. His findings are shocking. Elephant poaching declined after the 1989 ban on ivory sales, but that trend has now reversed. As Bryan explains in this issue, the reasons for this reversal are many, but the conclusion is singular: The killing must stop. Blood ivory can no longer be a badge of wealth or religious belief. The cost is too high.