Posts Tagged ‘Ivory’

Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs” – film-maker and documentarian Werner Herzog.

On Tuesday, September 6, three powerful new films chronicling EIA’s recent undercover investigations into timber smuggling, the ivory trade and whaling will make their world debut in the USA on Nat Geo Wild.

Paul Redman and Clare Perry filming in a Japanese fish market (c) EIA

Broadcast under the collective banner of Crimes Against Nature, Blood Ivory depicts the brutal horror of elephant poaching in Kenya and black market trade in the marketplaces of Hong Kong and China; Making a Killing exposes Iceland’s hunting of endangered fin whales to package and sell for consumption in Japan; and Chainsaw Massacre uncovers the Vietnamese army’s involvement in the widespread smuggling of timber from neighbouring Laos.

Each film follows seasoned EIA investigators in the field as they methodically piece together the clues of wildlife and forest crime and follow evidence trails leading to corrupt officialdom, organised criminal syndicates and grasping businessmen. Along the way, viewers will share the setbacks and successes in films rich with imagery both startling and haunting.

What they won’t see, and possibly won’t suspect, is the long year of preparations and often physically and emotionally demanding work behind the scenes to get three one-hour films in the can.

The project effectively began in 2009, following EIA’s tiger team in China and Nepal for a pilot film eventually broadcast early last year on Nat Geo Wild as Eco Crime Investigators – Inside the Tiger Trade.

The broadcast, first in the USA and subsequently worldwide (and it’s still in heavy rotation), was such a success that further programmes were commissioned.

On location in Kenya with Mary Rice and Dave Currey (c) EIA

Initial meetings with the London-based production company hired by Nat Geo to make the films focused on the likely scope of the three investigations, the probable shooting times and budget requirements for each, and a loose schedule around which investigators would have to fit all their usual campaign work and commitments.

It was in October 2010, when filming was concluded in Iceland and underway in Vietnam, that I was brought onboard as Project Co-ordinator; you could draw up a job description for the role which might run to several sides of A4, or you could just as accurately say my primary function was to help ease the process along as required.

Both EIA and the production company shared the same goal – to make the best programmes possible; naturally, both came at it with different considerations to the fore. The nature of conducting investigations in the field is that you never know what’s going to turn up and where it might lead; the nature of film-making is that you have to satisfy those commissioning the venture that they’re going to end up with a solid narrative arc and a substantial conclusion, preferably before shooting begins.

From the word ‘go’, EIA was adamant that its investigators would not serve as props, nor would they be mouthpieces for scripted lines which might in any way reflect poorly or inaccurately on the organisation, its methodology or its invaluable work. At the same time, we accepted that the film-makers needed to distil often-complex issues in a way that was accurate and wouldn’t leave viewers scratching their collective brows and reaching for the remote control. Looking at the finished products (and I believe I must have done so a score of times for each!), I think it’s fair to say this was achieved remarkably well.

In the field was where problems could most easily arise as directors fretted that they wouldn’t get the key shots they needed within the timeframe allowed, or when they were debriefing an investigator following an emotionally exhausting undercover filming session and needed the same kind of projected energy on take seven as was given the first time around. But our investigators are nothing if not troopers – and on many occasions during this project they were fixers and guides too – and the passion they have for their various campaigns all but radiates from the screen.

Julian Newman interviewed during filming in Laos (c) EIA

When location filming concluded by late March, it remained to fine-tune the narratives, film interviews with the key campaigners and nail down the voice-over and visual inserts such as animated maps..

With security the key consideration for EIA, this was also the time for me to go through each film with a fine toothcomb and ensure that the identity of our undercover Chinese investigator was protected at all times; you’d be amazed at how often somebody’s features can be fleetingly reflected in background mirrors and table tops.

All that remains now is for you to watch the films, and help EIA by spreading the word for others to do the same.

* After the US premiere on Tuesday, the three programmes are due to be broadcast on Nat Geo Wild in other territories, including the UK, later this year – watch our website and blog for details as we learn them.

Paul Newman, Press OfficerPaul Newman

Press Officer


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A Burning Without the Warmth of Jubilation

Ivory Burning credit Dr. Paula Kahumbu

Almost 10 years ago, EIA investigated the case of more than six tonnes of illegal ivory –­ that’s at least 600 dead elephants ­– seized en route to Japan. It became known as the Singapore Seizure and our subsequent investigations showed it had been only one of 19 which had left the shores of Africa, all heading to Asia and all using the same modus operandi.

To this day, no-one apart from a minor fixer in Singapore has ever been prosecuted, let alone convicted.

Despite a wealth of evidence ­ and the excellent work of a handful of enforcement officers from Zambia, Malawi and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF),­ this case has, along with so many other similar cases across Africa and Asia, foundered. The criminal networks continue to operate with impunity and the illegal ivory trade is thriving and growing.

On Wednesday, July 20, some of the ivory from the 2002 seizure, in the custody of LATF and held in Kenya at the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) training college in Tsavo, was burned in a public statement decrying the growing trade and  increasing numbers of elephants being poached to fuel the burgeoning demand for ivory in Asia, predominantly China. Before lighting the 335 tusks, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki told the crowd: “We wish to firmly demonstrate to the world our determination to eliminate all forms of illegal trade in ivory. Poachers and illegal traders in ivory must know that their days are numbered.”

From my point of view,­ and as one of EIA’s team working on this from the start,­ it was all a rather poignant and disappointing end to the futile demise of so many elephants. 

Poached Elephant © EIA

Disposing of the ivory in this way certainly sends out a clear message about the commitment to tackle illegal trade and ensure that this consignment of ivory never enters any market place, legal or otherwise; it also serves to underline Kenya’s stance that it will not tolerate illegal trade and poaching (although it did not go unnoticed that none of Kenya’s own stockpile made it onto the pyre).

But it is also a sad reminder that no-one was ever punished,­ bearing in mind that it was only one of many shipments that successfully penetrated the permeable borders and under-resourced enforcement agencies tasked with preventing illegal contraband. It can’t have been easy either for the individuals who risked their lives to pursue the case and bring the syndicate to light, some of whom were present for the burning. Their work was eclipsed by the headlines that followed the immediate seizure, and the apathy and filibustering which then dominated the subsequent investigations.

Four years after the seizure, I spoke with the then Director General of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) about the case and it’s status. His view was that it was ‘spilt milk’; it would seem that he was not alone. Now the Singapore Seizure has been consigned to history,­ a cold case,­ and remains the single biggest seizure of  ivory since the ban was implemented in 1989 (although, let’s face it, there have been a couple that have since come pretty close to equalling that dubious accolade). For many, this will be a line drawn, the end of an embarrassing chapter. For the individuals trying to move the case forward – the officers from ZAWA, the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Malawi, and the investigators from LATF – it must be a bitter-sweet outcome. Their efforts, which held so much promise and were a great example of agencies working together across borders to tackle illegal trade in ivory, ultimately came smack up against a brick wall. They did not fail; the system did. Corruption? Lack of resources? Political will? Inadequate penalties? I suspect we will never truly know.

On the positive side, the ZAWA officer who instigated the original investigation that led to the seizure and discovery of the  syndicate was recently appointed Director General of ZAWA. And Kenya has made an unequivocal statement about its stance, supported by the signatory countries to LATF.

At the end of the day, however, it all felt rather hollow. Lots of grand words and ambitious statements, and no celebration whatsoever of the gesture and signal being sent out to the criminal world. I wasn’t present at the last burning of ivory in Kenya, back in 1989, but I understand that the setting of flames was met with cheers, clapping and great jubilation; this burning was instead met with silence and a lot of jostling for position to get the iconic photograph or moving image.

The enforcement message somehow lost in the spin …

Mary Rice

Executive Director

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The days are shortening but there is always a hive of activity here at EIA HQ as winter sets in.

Campaigners are always coming and going from investigations or conferences across continents and this month has been no different. But if you look a little harder, you will notice the other parts of the EIA team that are always at HQ. Less glamorous perhaps but crucial to keeping the cogs of EIA turning; the finance team do a fantastic job and the comms team relentlessly spread the work of EIA, out to the press and you folks. I work in the fundraising department in EIA, I don’t to go as far as Bali or Bangkok, more like Brighton and Birmingham! But we’re all beavering away too.


Janet with little Phoebe

Janet with little Phoebe


So what have we been up to? Well behind the scenes, it’s an endless cycle of ensuring funding is secured to see the longevity of the organisation, year after year. Janet, our Head of Fundraising, has just got back from maternity leave and has been thrown straight back in the deep end!

Our elephant appeal has just been sent out, thank you to all those who have donated so far, it’s great to see all the cheques coming in. The generosity shown by our members and supporters all over the world not only goes into funding the important work we do but endorses our faith and passion to bring about environmental justice. With your support, we hope to be able to carry out investigations that map out the scale of poaching and demand for ivory, early in the new year. The ele’s team will keep you updated with developments.

Asia HouseMeanwhile, closer to home, the tiger is receiving a great deal of attention as a season of tiger events gets underway next week. Asia House are hosting an exhibition entitled The Tiger in Asian Art, showcasing a collection of Asian paintings, sculptures, textiles, photographs and other works of art. These pieces have been drawn from the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum and private collections, many of which are unseen. Complementary documentaries and trailers are also being shown, including one from EIA. Based on the full documentary you can see our trailer here. The exhibition opens to the public on the 5th November at Asia House, London, W1G 7LP. Admission is free.

ROAR Imagine a TigerThe ROAR collective, a group of artists who support EIA, are hosting a fundraising extravaganzaImagine a Tiger, starring poet/musician John Hegley and acclaimed cartoonist Tony Husband, creator of Private Eye’s Yobs. The event also features poet and DJ Charlie Dark, spoken word poet Polarbear, poet and comedienne Liz Bentley, Israeli singer/guitarist Hadar Manor, singer/songwriter Sean Taylor, poet Daniel Cockrill and the band Howls. This event will take place will take place at Islington’s Screen on the Green cinema, London N1, on Monday, 29th November, 2010. To buy a ticket, make a £15 donation here. All proceeds go to EIA’s Tiger Campaign.

Following the International Tiger Forum, held in St Petersburg in November, Asia House are hosting Save the Tiger Forum, putting words into actions. A panel of internationally renowned conservationists and speakers will be providing a platform for raising issues and debating possible solutions to save the tiger from extinction. Our own Debbie Banks will be on the panel and proceeds from the evening are split between, Wild Aid, Born Free and EIA. This event will take place on the 7th December at the Royal Geographical Society, London SW7 2AR. Tickets are from £10.

You can find out more about all the Asia House Events on their website.

So, whilst we’re busy raising funds here, perhaps your calendar will be busy too, attending some of these fantastic events!

Sophia Cheng

Membership & Fundraising

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The dust has finally begun to settle after the 14th meeting of Conference of the Parties (CoP 14) to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) back in March.  The outcome for elephants at CoP was favourable, but it was a close call. Despite considerable support from the usual suspects  – Southern African Development Community (SADC), Japan, China et al – and failure to reach agreement on a position – EU – attempts by Tanzania and Zambia to obtain a relaxation on the ivory ban so they could sell their ‘legal’ stockpiles were thwarted – but only just.

So now we have time to take stock and plan next steps. And already, the Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism in Zambia has  announced that Zambia plans to resubmit its proposal to the next CoP to be held in Thailand in 2013.  It seems like a long way off, but we know these things come along all too quickly.

Example of Ivory StockpileInteresting then that Zambia’s claims that they had no problems with poaching and illegal trade – a view supported by many governments and NGOs – appear to have been forgotten. EIA’s investigation and subsequent reportOpen Season depicted a very different scenario, and we were branded malicious liars by one delegation. Our recommendations to tackle lack of enforcement and the poaching of elephants seem to have been taken on board.  In a statement to the Parliament last week, Zambia’s Minister announced that they “plan to increase funding allocated to law enforcement in lower Zambezi National Park and to reduce the high level of illegal off takes,”  and that “the ministry would step up measures to monitor elephant population as well as controlling illegal trade.”  So I guess, that is tacit acknowledgement that there was some truth in what we were saying?

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