Exclusive - Bryan Christy Extended Interview

October 12, 2016 - Bryan Christy 10/12/2016 Views: 5,339

National Geographic reporter Bryan Christy talks about investigating wildlife exploitation in South Africa and describes the widespread corruption that enables rhino poaching. (12:39)

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Please welcome Bryan Christy.

(cheering and applause)

Thank you so muchfor being here.

It's great to be here.

I'm a, I'm a huge fanof your work

and what you've been doing.

Uh, for those who don't know,could you break it down?

I mean, when-when you sayyou're an explorer,

people think Indiana Jones.

Uh, that's basicallywhat you do.

You're like an Indiana Jones,slash, uh,

Inspector Clouseau, slash...like, you detective animals.

That's what you do, right?

That's exactly what I do,in fact, that's on my resume.

-Inspector Clouseau.-That's Detective animals.

-Yeah, yeah.-That's what it...

No, but, but, seriously, though,you-you go around the world,

and you tacklesome really tough stories,

talking about what's happeningin the world of, uh,

-I guess, you know, nature.-Yeah.

But what's fascinatingis how you draw the stories

from what seemslike a small topic,

-and it branches outinto everything. -Right.

Yeah. No, I startedprofessionally as a lawyer,

and I-I got a CPA license,and I found out, you know what?

There's not a lot of lifeto that.

But it did give me a skill setto be able to go after, uh,

big guys who areexploiting small guys.

And the smallest guy,th-th-the littlest guy

-on the planet is wildlife.-Yeah.

And so I've been able to, um,use that background.

I'm trained by an FBI undercoveragent who's my uncle.

And, uh, and now I go around...

Your uncle wasan FBI undercover agent?


-Did he tell you?-(laughter)

He, uh...

How do you know he wasundercover as your uncle?

I think he was really my uncle.

It's possible he was undercoveras my uncle,

but the coolest thing as a kid,was your uncle shows up,

and he's got a gun and a badgein his suitcase.

-That was cool.-Wow.

That hap-- that happened to me,as well.

-Did it?-Yeah.

But he just stole themfrom a toy store.

Very different experience.

So, so you're trainedin this world.

Uh, it's funny that you say"more life",

because didn't you,you worked as an apprentice

to your father,who was a mortician.

So you-you... like, as a kid,

you were rollingwith dead people.

I know, let's get some...first of all,

I'm the investigator.

I'm supposed to be coming upwith the dirt on other people.

I do, I do my research.I do my research.

Yeah. I grew up ina funeral home in New Jersey.

Now, you-you've workedwith dead people, and yet,

when I've talked to you,and when I read your stories,

it feels like what you'veexperienced out in the world,

is almost more morbid

than what you've experiencedin the world of humans.

Absolutely. I mean,

what-what people do to animals

around the worldis heartbreaking.

-Yeah. -You know?And in the funeral business...

you-you learn...I mean, you learn empathy.

You learn to be ableto relate to people

in all different circumstances,

and-and try to do well for them.

Um... But what people are doingout there to wildlife

is out of greed.

Is just the worst of the worst.

You have an amazing story

that I-I really recommend peoplego out and-and read about,

uh, the illegal trade of ivoryin the world. Tracking it...

tracking it back to terrorism,surprisingly,

which is why I say these storiesalways lead their way

into something bigger.Uh, this-this story

that's coming outin National Geographic

really hit home with me,because it was about,

uh, it's about rhino poaching.

And rhino poaching,predominantly in South Africa,

-where we have the biggestproblem. I mean... -Yeah.

The, you know,there were once 500,000 rhinos,

beginning of the 20th century.

And now we're down to,what, 29,000?

Yeah, that's right.

And... So, when...

when you looked at the story,when you s...

Where do you even start?

How do you get involvedin these stories?

The rhino, uh, story...

um, started, for me, with-withknowing that South Africa

was about to possibly s... uh,

submit to the world the idea

that-that we shouldopen the world

-to rhino horn trade.-Yeah.

And, um, that decision

was going to be made this fall.

And so I wanted...I had about a year

to-to launchan investigation and...

So, I went... You're right,South Africa

is the epicenterfor poaching right now.

I went there,I-I spent time with rhinos,

I spent time with the rangers,and, uh,

one of the law enforcementofficers said to me, um...

I said, "Look, I'd liketo meet some of the bad guys.

I'd like to meet some of thepeople you put in prison."

They said, "Well,why don't you just show up?"

I said, "I can do that?"

"Yeah, just..."

So I did. I, uh, drovePretoria Centil... Central.

-Yeah. -Um, whereOscar Pistorius is, for example.

-Yup.-Um... And I got...

-Not for rhino poaching.-Not for rhino poaching. Yeah.

Um... and I met, uh...

Hugo Ras, who's a more...

a notorious, um,

-uh, figure in South Africa.-Yes.

And, uh, and he's being held

without bair...bail right now

because of-of what he's done

to-to rhinos there.

It's interesting--a lot of people don't know

how all of these thingstie together.

Hugo Ras was also the man

who brought outthe Trump children

to hunt animals in South Africa.

You see those pictures online

of the Trump boysholding up their prized kills.

And he was the man whohelped them do that, you know?

Well, that-that... Hugo...

-They did hunt with Hugo Ras.-Yeah.

Those photos that,uh, appear online--

uh, they went outwith another company.

They've been to Africaa number of times,

hunting big game,the Trump sons.

Um, those photos that show up

are with a companycalled Hunting Legends.

Uh, they're sort ofa successor to Hugo Ras.

Once Hugo went into prison, um,

Hunting Legends has occupieda lot of his properties.

Now a lot of people don't know.

Let's get into the storyof it,

because this iswhat fascinating me reading.

-I knew about poaching.From South Africa. -Yeah.

I knew about poachers,you know, like,

the little gorilla factionsof poachers running out,

killing one, two,three rhinos a day.

You know, these guys that arejust trying to make money

coming from Mozambiqueand Angola.

But you tacklea very different story.

Men who are running companies

where some of them are bring outAmerican hunters

to kill game that they're notsupposed to be killing.

-Yeah.-How does that work?

Well, South Africa...

I'm being tracking wildlifeexploitation for over a decade.

I've gone all over the world.

And I've never seen anythinglike South Africa.

South Africa-- the part I didn'tknow is ranching game. -Yeah.

So you have rhino ranchesthat look like cattle ranches...

Yeah. We have a pictureof that if they have it.

It's insane to seeso many rhino in the same place.

Like, you don't thinkof rhino like that, but, yeah.

CHRISTY: Right. That is oneof the saddest photos to me.

You know, to South Africans,to the owner of this ranch,

that... he's incredibly proud."I'm saving rhino."

To me, these are...

-This is the commodificationof a species. -Mm-hmm.

These are rhinothat are now assets.

Their horns are cut off,the horns grow back.

So they're cutting these hornsoff, stockpiling them,

hoping to sell them for millionsand millions of dollars

on the Asian market.

And to do it, they're havingthese rhino live like cattle.

-Yeah. -And these arebiologically dead.

They're not part of ecosystemsanymore.

And it's not just rhino.

They're doing it to sable,they're doing it...

Pick your speciesthat an American wants to hunt,

and they're turning itinto a farm.

These American huntersthat go down-- do they know?

Because, I mean, they pay,what, $10,000 a pop.

They go down,they get to kill a rhino.

-That's a fraction of the amountthey should be paying. -Right.

Do they knowthat they're getting a deal,

and the deal is illegal?

There's a major caseI describe in the story

of a guy who does exactly that.

He brings over American hunters,um,

and he charges themjust $10,000.

Now, normally, a rhino huntwould be multiples of that.

-Yeah. -It's not uncommonto spend $250,000 on a hunt.

Um, so, yes, they knew.

Uh, from my perspective,they knew.

When you have someof the more gruesome stories--

and we'll show someof the people the pictures.

And I don't show you thisto shock you.

Just, I show this to you

to make you understandthe gravity of the situation,

and, also, how brutalthese people are.

There is a manwho you talk about in the story

who has rhino, kills themand just chops the horns off.

He doesn't try to, you know,keep them alive.

He doesn't try to workwith people to, you know,

I guess harvest the hornsin a humane way.

When you're talking to him,how does he describe this?

To him,these rhino are his property.

"These are mine.This is my property.

I can do with my rhinowhat I want."

And that's a very dangerousperspective.

-This is wildlife as property.-Yeah.

And that's a...that's a...

I've seen versions of thataround the world,

but in South Africa,

I've never seen itso concentrated as there.

And it's different.

The American model has,you know...

-It's basicallythe state owns wildlife. -Yeah.

You... There are limitson your... what you can take.

In South Africa, these guys...

uh, and it... it comesfrom an apartheid-era rule--

if I can fence this...

-Yes. Then it's mine.-I own it.

-Yeah, exactly. -It waswith animals and black people.


So when you...when you were down there,

and you've seenwhat's happening...

is there a solution,is there a way that you can win?

Because a lot of peopletalk about it

like the battle is lost--you cannot beat poachers,

you cannot end, uh,rhino poaching.

I mean, I was fascinated,I didn't know that rhino horns

were the most valuable,uh, commodity you can get

from an exotic animal.

-Yeah. -I didn't know thatbeyond ivory and everything...

-Yeah.-So can this be stopped?

It's gonna... it's certainlygoing to be a challenge,

and for-- you mentioned thisin the beginning--

for me, these stories arewindows on bigger questions--

the social questions--and in this case,

South Africa's legal system,and the legal system

of those countries thatwould buy-- China, Vietnam,

-Laos, Thailand...-Yeah.

And they're buying this why?

They're buying itto use as Asian medicine.

You know, you grind it up,they believe, um...

it cures cancer,they believe it cures headaches,

they believeit cures snake bites.

Um... becauseof bad Western media,

they also believeit's an aphrodisiac.

There's a club drug now,uh, using rhino...

ground-up rhino horn.

Um, it's... it's terribly sad.

Um... but unless the legalsystems in these countries,

-um, are... are improved...-Yeah.

You know, the levelof corruption in South Africa

is something...

Look, when I'm goingto countries

where terrorists are operatingin Central Africa, I get it.

-Yeah.-Right? These are failed states.

But I went to South Africa,a model of the continent,

and I'm see... I'm meeting thehead of Kruger National Park,

telling me I can't take a caseto the courts here.

-Because the corruptionis so bad. -Yeah.

Yeah. Um...

one of the most...

I guess... humaneand uplifting pictures

I've seen in your story

was of a little rhino cub

that had lost its mother,

and, uh,I guess one of the rangers

had to spend the nightwith the cub.

It's a really beautiful image,and you see there are a lot

of good people who are fightingto stop this from happening,

a lot of good peoplewho are trying, uh,

-to-to end rhino poaching.-Absolutely. I mean,

this is at a rhino orphanage.

This rhino-- Brent Stirtontakes these photographs.

-He's... he's South African.-Yeah.

Nevertheless,he's very talented.

-Um... he, uh...-(laughter)

-Nicely done.-(laughs): Uh...

Um, but this-this rhino's motherwas killed,

and, um... hyenas did this,you know?

-Yeah. -You never...These are things...

I'm from New Jersey--I don't get this sort of thing

uh, uh, at first, and, uh...

Yeah, the... the populationof people who are dedicated

to saving these animalsis what gives me hope.

Before I let you go,someone reads the story,

someone goes,"Brian, you've touched me,

I didn't knowthis was a problem,"

or "I want to help,I want to do something about it,

but I live in another place,"what can people do,

how can people get involved,and what do you hope to achieve?

Uh, well, I'll say this.

The... you know,I'm going to places where...


religion is, uh, under siege,

where, um,my right as a journalist,

freedom of the pressis under siege,

where-- these are dictatorships.


um, when those privilegesare at risk,

these sorts of things happen.

So the most important thingsomeone can do is vote.