National Geographic’s undercover investigation into how the global religious market for ivory is a driving force in the slaughter of thousands of African elephants has prompted extensive media coverage — and calls for an official inquiry — in the Philippines.
Bryan Christy reported in the October 2012 issue of National Geographic that he traveled to the Philippines to understand the country’s ivory trade and possibly get a lead on who was behind 5.4 tons of illegal ivory seized by customs agents in Manila in 2009, 7.7 tons seized there in 2005, and 6.1 tons bound for the Philippines seized by Taiwan in 2006. Assuming an average of 22 pounds of ivory per elephant, these seizures represent about 1,745 elephants, Christy wrote.
Christy met Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, a senior Catholic cleric and one of the best known ivory collectors in the Philippines, who told Christy that if he wanted to buy an ivory Santo Niño, a carving of the Christ child, he would have to smuggle it to get it into the U.S. “Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it,” Garcia said. “So it looks shitty with blood. This is how it is done.” International trade in elephant ivory has been banned for the last 22 years.
The National Geographic article has not gone unnoticed in the Philippines.
“If this allegation is true, this illegal wildlife trade would be an international embarrassment for the Philippines and the Filipinos. This must stop.”
“If this allegation is true, this illegal wildlife trade would be an international embarrassment for the Philippines and the Filipinos. This must stop,” Antonio Oposa Jr., an environmental lawyer, told the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer. “We see violations of the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), Wildlife Conservation Act, Anti-Fencing Law, Customs Code and others,” he said.
Oposa said his group had asked the Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation and Department of Environment and Natural Resources to investigate the people responsible for the illegal trade in the country. “We have also asked the Interpol to conduct an investigation on the people behind this illegal wildlife syndicate. It has long been known in the international circles that the Philippines is a source, a buyer and a conduit in the illegal wildlife trade,” Oposa said.
Theresa Mundita Lim, Director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources, confirmed she received a copy of the lawyer’s request, according to the news site Rappler.com. “We are coordinating on the matter now,” she said.
The president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Jose Palma, told the Sun Star news website “the Catholic Church does not condone killing animals to make their parts into religious items, like taking the tusks of elephants and carving these into ivory statues.” Palma is expected to make a statement about the allegations against Monsignor Garcia, who is reported by several local news media as being on sick leave.
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.