National Geographic Magazine investigative journalist Bryan Christy was so determined to expose the international ivory trade network on the first episode of NatGeo’s returning documentary series Explorer, he wound up being arrested in Tanzania when he was attempting to ship fake tusks through the country’s borders.
The episode entitled, Warlords Of Ivory, was an 18-month investigation for Christy and his producer J.J. Kelly whereby they traced the smuggling of elephant tusks from Africa into China where they are prized. Annually, some 30K elephants are slaughtered for their tusks. “This story isn’t known. It’s about terrorist organizations funding themselves through ivory. No one has followed the path of ivory up until now. It’s been a story of organized crime,” asserted Christy.
During the episode, Christy and Kelly go to one of the best taxidermists who constructs a set of fake elephant tusks. The production team then installed a satellite GPS tracker in the tusks to track where they are shipped. Christy pointed out that the GPS tactic is a typical one employed by most drug trafficking agents.
While most animal victim docs have a “Sally Struthers quality” per Christy, he was adamant about angling Explorer toward “showing the face of the villain”.
Christy’s arrest in Tanzania — a prime crossroads for the ivory trade – resulted when the production was traveling with the tusks. Kelly said, “People swarmed Bryan calling him a liar: ‘How dare you take our national resources!'”. Kelly was stripped of his HD camera, but was able to shoot the Tanzanian melee on his iPhone.
In response to the non-stop research process involved with investigative stories, not to mention that the best leads are always called in after a story publishes, Christy announced that NatGeo is starting a Special Investigations unit which he is spearheading.
Explorer has been on hiatus for five years. Other Explorer monthly episodes scheduled: “Lost City of the Monkey God” which tells the story of the quest for a lost city in Mosquitia, one of the largest rain forests in Central America; “The Five Stages of Climate Change Grief” in which Bill Nye deconstructs global warming; and “Cult of Mary” which explores the historical and modern day worship of Jesus Christ’s mother.