U.S. Ivory Investigator Killed At His Home In Kenya

Feb 5, 2018
Originally published on February 5, 2018 9:56 pm
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Today we're remembering Esmond Bradley Martin. He was one of the leading investigators of the illegal trade in elephant tusks and rhino horns. Yesterday he was found stabbed to death in his home in Nairobi, Kenya. Police believe it may have been a botched robbery. Earlier today we reached Frank Pope in Cape Town, South Africa. He's the CEO of Save the Elephants, and he worked with Esmond Bradley Martin for years. He told me about Martin's method of surveying ivory markets.

FRANK POPE: He stuck with his tried-and-tested techniques of simply visiting these markets, counting the pieces with great patience, seeing how many pieces were on sale and what the value of those pieces - and the fact that he did these surveys over and over again meant that you could establish trends in the market.

SHAPIRO: So on the one hand, it sounds as though his work was very analytical and research data-driven. And on the other hand, there was almost this kind of undercover espionage aspect to it where he was going to these markets and seeing what rhino horn and elephant tusk were selling for.

POPE: You know, it's tempting to think of all investigators as undercover. If you'd met Esmond, you'd realize that there could never be anything undercover about Esmond.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

POPE: He was extremely distinctive. He was a tall, elegant guy with a shock of white hair, a bright sports jacket. There was everything memorable about Esmond. But he would hide in plain sight. And many of the markets he was visiting were legal markets, but they act as smokescreens for illegal markets.

And that is the problem with illegal trade in any of these wildlife species. And the proponents of trade assume that you can have a clean trade. Well, real life teaches you that when you have a clean trade, you end up with a background illegal trade, which is where the poached elephants and rhinos that Esmond was working for end up disappearing into.

SHAPIRO: China has just banned the legal sale of ivory. And I know that your group, Save the Elephants, published Esmond's most recent report last year about the Chinese domestic ivory trade. Do you think that his research played a role in China's decision to enact this ban?

POPE: Esmond's been instrumental in not only this ivory ban but the previous ivory ban, where in 1989, the nations of the world voted to close down all international trade in ivory. And his surveys established not only that the price was rising from 2008 onwards, but it also established the peak at just over $2,000 a kilo for raw, wholesale ivory and charted its decline following the Chinese action on the issue.

So his data was really giving us this sort of - the ivory trade equivalent of a pulse or the blood pressure of the system. And without that data, you can't gauge your conservation success. Are you actually helping to bring down the price of these items and therefore decrease the incentive to poach the wild animals? And so his work has been foundational for all of the work that has been done to save these species.

SHAPIRO: Frank Pope, CEO of Save the Elephants, thank you very much for remembering Esmond Bradley Martin with us.

POPE: Thank you for having me, on and thank you for paying attention to this.

SHAPIRO: Esmond Bradley Martin was killed yesterday at his home in Kenya at the age of 75. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.