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'Battle For The Elephants' Follows Global Ivory Trade And Its Effect On Vulnerable Species (VIDEO)

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The "Battle for the Elephants" crew takes a break with members of the Maasai at Amboseli National Park, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of John Heminway and J.J. Kelley for National Geographic Television.)

A new special from National Geographic Television and PBS explores the brutal ivory trade and its effect on Africa's elephant populations. "Battle for the Elephants," which airs February 27 on PBS, follows journalists Bryan Christy and Aidan Hartley as they track the ivory trade from Tanzania to China.

"You can smell it; it’s almost like dried blood," Hartley described while visiting the world's largest stockpile of ivory tusks in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Walking among 90 metric tons of ivory valued at $50 million, he added, "There is the smell of death in here. All of these are confiscated trophies."

Writer, producer and director John Heminway said in a press release, “If the current situation remains the status quo, we are facing the very real possibility that elephants living in the wild will go extinct in the coming decades." He added, "The market for smuggled ivory is too lucrative for poachers to resist, and our research suggests demand for ivory in China is only going to rise.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species classifies African elephants (Loxodonta africana) as "vulnerable." According to the organization, illegal hunting remains a factor in areas like Central Africa, but "the most important perceived threat is the loss and fragmentation of habitat."

National Geographic notes in the press release that "Battle for the Elephants" was funded in part by billionaire businessman David Koch. Koch was among a number of celebrities in attendance at a February screening of the special. He has abstained from hunting "since 1965 because of his sympathy for animals," reported The New York Times.

Although the Washington Post reports Koch's $35 million donation to the National Museum of Natural History in 2012 was the fifth-largest single donation in Smithsonian history, the oil executive has faced criticism for his environmental stances and for shrugging off climate science.

The underworld of illegal ivory trafficking was also explored last year in the Discovery Channel's "Ivory Wars." Discovery producers went undercover in a market in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The show's narrator explained, "it may already be too late" for elephants in the DRC, "thanks to deforestation, consumption of elephant meat and a lax policy on ivory sales."

"Battle for the Elephants" premieres on PBS on Wednesday, February 27 at 9PM EST.

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