Some 30,000 African elephants die each year as a result of poaching, and many of their ivory tusks wind up hundreds or thousands of miles away. Investigative journalist Bryan Christy wanted to track the route of the poached tusks, so he commissioned a taxidermist to create two fake ivory tusks, which he embedded with specially designed tracking devices.
"These tusks ... operate really like additional investigators, like members of our team, and almost like a robocop," Christy tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.
Christy and his team tracked the smugglers as they transported the tusks north from Congo's Garamba National Park to Sudan. Frequently tusks are traded for arms or medicine in Sudan's Darfur region, but ultimately, Christy says, much of the ivory winds up in China.
"China is the biggest consumer of illegal ivory. ... Just a few years ago [China] purchased 60 tons of ivory from Africa, and it was that purchase that unleashed the notion that ivory is on the market again," he says.
Christy's article about tracking the ivory of African elephants is the cover story of National Geographic Magazine's September 2015 issue. The National Geographic Channel documentary Warlords of Ivory also reports on his efforts.