Author Topic: Slaughter of elephants for ivory. An undercover story.  (Read 1411 times)

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Slaughter of elephants for ivory. An undercover story.
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2013, 11:45:19 AM »
Ivory undercover

By ABC's  Eric Campbell   

Updated 1 hour 15 minutes ago

    There are genuine fears that Africa's wild elephant herds could be wiped out in 20 years. height=227 Photo: There are genuine fears that Africa's wild elephant herds could be wiped out in 20 years. (ABC TV)  

Eric Campbell has trouble feigning interest in football let alone passing himself off as an ivory smuggler, but that's exactly what he had to do for his latest assignment for Foreign Correspondent.

In a long and often strange career as a reporter, I've been called on to play many roles in pursuit of a story. The most embarrassing, in the 1980s, was having to ring a sex line for a consumer affairs program to listen to the fake moaning of a bored housewife who I was fairly sure was doing the ironing.

But until my latest assignment for Foreign Correspondent I'd never had to pretend I was a criminal, let alone try to convince genuine criminals that I was genuinely criminal. This doesn't come naturally. I have trouble feigning interest in football let alone passing myself off as an underworld heavy. But even that would be easy compared to the most crucial task on which everything depended … filming the whole thing with a wristwatch.

The idea was to penetrate the inherently violent and camera-shy world of ivory smuggling in Tanzania. Secret filming is always a last resort and can only be justified by overwhelming circumstances. But the slaughter of elephants has reached proportions that until recently were unimaginable. Over the past five years, there's been an explosion in the illegal trade in ivory tusks. Criminal syndicates now use aeroplanes and GPS to track herds and automatic, armour piercing rifles to kill them. An insatiable demand from China's burgeoning middle class for ivory trinkets has led to genuine fears Africa's wild herds could be wiped out in 20 years.

We'd spent 10 days travelling through Kenya and Tanzania seeing sickening images, including an entire family of elephants shot with Kalashnikovs, including the calves that had little if any ivory. Now we were trying to find some of the people responsible.

Our first challenge, finding an ivory seller, proved to be remarkably easy. After a couple of days in the capital, Dar es Salaam, we managed to make contact with a middle-man who introduced us by phone to two suppliers. Our contact told us they were nervous about doing business with us because we weren't Chinese, but they agreed to meet us at a café to decide if we could be 'trusted'.

After an hour's wait, two very ordinary looking African men dressed in jeans and T-shirts approached our table. After uncomfortable greetings they sat in silence sipping Cokes while I went through my spiel. I was an Australian living in Cambodia working for a Chinese Cambodian businessman interested in getting a steady supply of ivory. We had a contact at the Chinese embassy who would smuggle it all out in diplomatic bags (I just made that up, but it seemed to reassure them). Finally, I told them I was prepared to pay $200 to see some ivory just to show we were serious and weren't wasting their time.

Throughout this my two Australian companions played their respective roles. 'Sean', a bearded man in shorts, was my 'security consultant', checking details on prices, delivery methods and police pay-offs (he's actually Sean Willmore, a former Victorian Park ranger who now runs an NGO helping rangers in conflict zones).

'Dave', my 'associate', sat stock still watching them (that's Foreign Correspondent cameraman, David Martin, who was recording the whole thing with a wristwatch containing a tiny secret camera. It's a novelty item you can buy in Sydney's Chinatown that records fuzzy sound and vision, but it's better than nothing and it's virtually undetectable as long as you don't wave your arm about).

Eventually my spiel seemed to convince them, and they agreed to take Sean and me to my secret ivory stash. But they were adamant they would only bring two of us … 'Dave' couldn't come.

"Um. How long will we be?" I asked nervously.

"Half an hour, no longer", Ivory Smuggler Number One said.

"OK, I'll need to bring a watch to make sure," I said. "Dave, can I borrow yours'?"

And so Sean and I set off in their car through the back streets of Dar es Salaam as I tried to nonchalantly hold the watch horizontally and follow the action. As a cameraman, I'm a good reporter, meaning I can't shoot to save my life and on this occasion I couldn't help thinking it might get me killed. My arm was shaking and I became terrified they would spot the watch lens. So

I pretended to make a phone call to Dave, and then held the smartphone with the video camera on while covering up the ABC bar code. After a few minutes I lost courage and put it back in my pocket.

The car stopped and they walked us down a dirt road into a house where they produced a suitcase full of ivory tusks. This was the money shot, if only we could shoot it.

Another mock phone call to Dave, another attempt to cover the ABC bar code on my iPhone, then Sean had the bright idea of asking if we could take a photo of it.

"No faces," he said. "We just need to show size to Cambodian buyer".

On the way back to the cafe, Ivory Sellers Number One and Two seemed to relax and started speaking freely. They were happy to supply us all we wanted. A hundred kilos would take just 24 hours to collect (that's approximately seven dead elephants).

Then for the first time, Ivory Seller Number One asked me a personal question.

"Mr Eric, do you go to church?"

"Ah, no. I'm not a believer."

"That is no good," he said, genuinely shocked. "You must go to church every Sunday."

We shook hands at the café and arranged to meet again to see some ivory carvings. I wondered if he would pray for my soul while arranging the next order of elephant slaughter.

Foreign Correspondent returns with 'Where have all the elephants gone?' tonight at 8pm on ABC1.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2013, 11:46:52 AM by WA Export News »