Illegal trade in animal parts is a global problem that's signaling the extinction for many endangered species. Experts estimate that about 25,000 elephants were killed last year alone, for their ivory tusks. The driving economic forces that facilitate the illicit trade are supply and demand.

In this short video, we travel to China, where investigative journalist Bryan Christy explains how a longstanding tradition of carving ivory, combined with a booming middle class, is fueling demand for ivory. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) reports that nearly all of the current demand for elephant ivory comes from the Chinese market. The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates that 84 percent of the ivory sold in China is illegal.

Then, in east Africa, we follow investigative journalist Aidan Hartley as he goes undercover to learn first-hand about the rising prices of black market ivory. Using specialty cameras to infiltrate the criminal network, Aidan documents the illegal supply leaving Africa.

This video was produced to accompany the National Geographic film Battle for the Elephants, which explores the history of and economics behind the brutal slaughter of African elephants for their tusks.

  1. In efforts to halt the illegal trade in poached ivory, Kenya has burned stockpiles of tusks and the Philippine government crushed more than 5 tons of ivory tusks. In what ways might these actions help or hurt efforts to halt the killing of elephants for their tusks—the supply side of the illicit trade?

    • Answer

      These actions might help because they work to dry up the supply side of the equation. Limiting the supply may force the producers of ivory products to use only legally obtained ivory or curtail their production.

      On the other hand, reducing the stockpiles of poached ivory may result in more poaching in order to meet demand.

  2. The film poses the question of which competing force should be stopped to solve the problem of the illegal ivory trade—and the resulting dwindling of the elephant population. Why do you think investigative journalist Bryan Christy believes stopping the demand side will do more to halt the poaching?

    • Answer

      Answers will vary, but the most likely result of reducing the demand for ivory products in China and other parts of the world will be a decrease in the prices paid to poachers. Without a lucrative market for their poached ivory, the criminal networks involved in the ivory trade may decide that the risks involved outweigh the benefits. 


(Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) international agreement whose aim is "to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival."


management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.


to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.


buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.