Lifestyle & Belief

NatGeo: Philippine priests complicit in ivory smuggling


A conservationist watches over a four-month-old black baby rhino at the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in South Africa. The country has seen a huge rise in poaching as black market demand for rhino horn soars.



“Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it ... so it looks shitty with blood. This is how it is done.”

That's free advice on smuggling ivory into the United States, offered by a high-ranking Catholic cleric in the Philippines, according to an exhaustive report in National Geographic.

In reporting his "Ivory Worship" piece, journalist Brian Christy travels to the Vatican, China and Thailand to explore various cultures' obsessions with rhino and elephant horns and the weak international laws that enable smuggling. (I explored this subject several months ago in a piece titled "Time to Ban Ivory for Good?")

But the Philippines offers his most compelling material: when interviewing a Cebu monsignor with a serious ivory fetish, the cleric is astonishingly candid about smuggling techniques and underground routes and seems almost intent on implicating himself in crime. Christy makes clear that he identified himself as a writer for National Geographic. Either the Monsignor Cristobal Garcia didn't understand he was speaking to a journalist or he's completely nutty.

Either way, he's probably wishing he never met this journalist. Acccording to Agence France Presse, Philippine government investigators have been dispatched to Cebu to pore through his trove of ivory carvings and determine their origin.