Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 'The African elephant, the largest animal on Earth, is under threat. 'Some herds are being decimated at an alarming rate.' We're truly worried about the future of elephants. Some places have lost almost all their elephants. 'They are still being hunted for their ivory despite a trade ban in place for more than 20 years.' Oh, yeah, here it is. Ask him about the elephant that was killed. These people are armed, very well armed - G3s, AK-47s. 'Even the youngest are in the firing line.' Kasigau over there has got a clear wound. 'And seizures of illegal ivory are at a new high.' What is at the heart of the illegal killing of elephants in Africa can be summarised in one word - money. How much is this one? 'We go under cover to find the ivory dealers.' 10,000 for one? 'We see the new technology being used to track down the criminals.' These poachers are hammering the sam area over and over and over again. 'We go on the trail of the poachers, smugglers and organised crime syndicates 'into a web that stretches to south-east Asia and beyond... 'to the biggest ivory buyer of all.' 90% of all the people we have arrested at our airports ferrying ivory... ..are Chinese. China is the future for elephants. If China can curb its demand... ..elephants will survive in Africa. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, all right? 'But can this demand be stifled? 'Or is it already too late?' 'Port Klang near Kuala Lumpur. It's the busiest port in Malaysia 'and the last stop for vessels heading to the Far East.' SIREN WAILS 'For three months, Customs have been tracking a container from Africa. 'Intelligence has alerted them to contraband hidden deep within packing crates. 'Inside, a shocking discovery. 'Nearly one and a half tonnes of illegal ivory, 'worth almost a million pounds, the equivalent of around 150 dead elephants. 'And all this at a time when an international ban is supposed to stop the killing.' We found that the container was full of... Despite a 23-year international ban on the trade in ivory, all indications are that demand is booming, getting higher and higher each year. Last year saw the highest number of large seizures of illegal ivory for over two decades. 'Up until the middle of last year, Malaysia hadn't made a single large ivory seizure in nearly a decade. 'This is their fourth large bust in just five months.' All we're doing here is stopping the smuggler from getting his products. It's really good. We need more of this, so we shut down the business. 'Today, Malaysia is the latest country to emerge for ivory smuggling, 'but it's just one of the many staging posts around the world 'in a multi-million-pound criminal trade.' It takes a large amount of organised activity to be able to move and manoeuvre all these activities to the product ending up in Asia, so one can assume it's organised crime. 'So to understand the links in this chain, I'm going back to where it all begins - Africa. 'Man has always hunted elephants here - for meat, sport and for ivory. 'Its tusks were traditionally used in carvings, piano keys and even false teeth. 'Today, some conservationists fear killings are so out of control 'that elephants could soon disappear for ever in parts of the continent. 'Kenya - a popular safari destination. 'Tourism is essential to the country's economy, 'but even here in Samburu in the north, 'a place where elephants have recently thrived, 'there are alarming new signs, 'sickening images tourists rarely see. 'I'm following the trail left by elephant poachers.' We're on our way with Stephen, who is the conservation warden for the West Gate Community here, because we've heard that there's an elephant which has been killed, the carcass of which is, I think, not very far away. Oh, yeah, here it is. FLIES BUZZING This was killed right here? It has been killed using bullets, a gun. Six rounds. Death always brings this disgusting, high, sweet smell and it seems to sort of hit you in the stomach and cling to your skin and your hair, but more than the smell, actually, it's the shocking sight of this adult female elephant with her face having been hacked off because the poachers wanted to take the tusks. 'Older elephants, due to the size of their tusks, are most vulnerable to the poachers' snares and guns.' How old was this elephant? So a full, mature...? She was pregnant? Yes. 'The warden thinks two poachers were involved in the slaughter. 'Just a few feet away lie the remains of the elephant's dead baby.' These are also the ribs. The ribs. Oh, these are the ribs of the little elephant? Yeah. You can see now. Yeah. 'The carcass was found just outside the gates of Samburu National Reserve. 'It's a base for Save The Elephants, a charity founded by Iain Douglas-Hamilton. 'Iain witnessed the decimation of Kenya's herds in the 1970s and '80s when numbers plummeted. 'They recovered after the ivory trade ban was agreed in 1989. 'But in the last three years, Samburu has lost a quarter of its elephants, 'in large part due to poaching.' At the moment, we're having a poaching spike. It's worse than it's ever been before. This spike is very serious because if it got out of hand, it would threaten not only elephants, but also the communities around. 'Poaching has an enormous impact on the herd as a whole. 'Elephants live in a matriarchal family where females lead the group.' They really live in a multi-tiered system of many, many relationships radiatin out into the whole population. We've been able to show through experiments that a given female knows at least 100 other adult females just by voice alone. The loss of any individual in a family is really profound, particularly adults. When one of them dies, it is a major, major event and you can see that they actually mourn the death. Any calf that she has that is under the age of, say, two or three, is definitely going to die unless it's rescued somehow. 'It's a constant battle to try and stay one step ahead of the criminals. 'Gilbert Sabinga works for Save The Elephants. 'He is mapping where poachers have been active as part of a system called MIKE.' So all these red dots here...? And there's a lot down here in this area. 'Technology is a vital tool in monitoring and protecting the animals, 'but it's a huge challenge in the 165-square-kilometre reserve. 'Eight elephants are fitted with a satellite collar. 'It sends text messages to a radio antenna and tracks their routes. 'If the signal stops moving for a matter of hours, it could be a sign of a poacher in the area, 'so the team spring into action.' That's a warning sign? 'Today, Gilbert wants to check up on two matriarchs 'called Wendy... 'and Mercury. 'The team wants to make sure their herds are safe from poachers active in the area.' So, Gilbert, you've just done the whole thing with the antenna and found not Wendy, but Mercury? Yeah. And they're just the other side of the river here? Just this side of the river here. 'First, we find a straggler separated from the group.' We know that they must be around here somewhere because that young male elephant we just saw, basically doubled back in this direction to try to find the rest of the herd. Actually, the signal is very strong on that side. 'Then suddenly, we spot the herd in the distance. 'The family is all accounted for and safe from the poachers...for now.' So there's Mercury. She's the head of this family. You can see around her neck the collar with the beacon on top of it that's sending this signal. That's how we've been able to trace her. It's amazing seeing them with their little baby elephants and how protective they are towards them, making sure that they travel in between two of the adults. 'But some families are not as lucky as Mercury's. 'Some of the poachers' youngest victims end up here - an elephant orphanage just outside Nairobi. 'This morning, it's feeding time for the babies. 'Tourists pay to see them up close. The money goes towards their upkeep, 'along with funding for anti-poaching teams.' KEEPER CALLS OUT TO ELEPHANTS Come on. Come on. 'Abdul is one of the orphanage's most experienced keepers. 'He looks after the orphan Kihari and, as her surrogate mother, 'feeds, washes and even sleeps beside her every night.' These ones were about six months old They have witnessed maybe their mother being killed by poachers. When they come here, they are so traumatised, they are so sad. Sometimes you'll see baby elephants staying away from the others, their head bowed down, not happy at all. 'Poaching numbers have nearly doubled in the past year alone in Kenya. 'The youngest are abandoned as their tusks don't show until around two or three years old. 'They're of no value to the criminals.' It's only when you get quite close to the elephants that you see some of the wounds that were inflicted upon them. Kasigau over there has got a clear wound just below his right eye and Rombo has got a hole in one of his ears because of an arrow. 'Abdul says the orphans have nightmares, reliving the poachers' attacks, 'and so need constant reassurance.' SLURPING 'But when the elephants are reintroduced into the wild, they may be at the mercy of the hunters. 'I'm on my way to see what the poachers are after - raw tusks. 'They're locked away in the offices of the Kenyan Wildlife Service on the edges of Samburu. 'It's a dangerous area. Just days before we arrived, 'people were shot in cattle-rustling skirmishes.' These captured tusks are at the very heart of this story of the trade in illegal ivory and they're a really pitiful sight, not just because you see the smashed-up, blooded tusks, but they're also a reminder that no elephant is spared, from large bull elephants whose tusks weigh nearly 30 kilos to little baby elephants whose tusks weigh no more than two kilos. So how do these poachers operate? It's 5am. Andy Marshall, a former SAS officer, is head of security in charge of a 50-strong army. A dead elephant has been discovered on a private nature reserve of 100,000 acres. The owner has been attacked by poachers. Today, they are following a tip-off from an informer. These people are armed, very well armed. G3s, AK-47s, because with the price of ivory, everyone is going to chance their luck. Andy suspects criminals have buried tusks from an elephant they killed ten days earlier. This morning, they hoped to catch one of the gang red-handed and recover the ivory. But they're too late. The poachers fled the camp. Only a young boy is left behind. The team hunts for clues on the gang's whereabouts. Ask him about the elephant that was killed. CONVERSATIION IN LOCAL LANGUAGE What about his father? Does he know? And the three men that came to get its tusks? But the little boy seems too scared to help. This trail leads nowhere, but poaching is drawing in communities across Africa. You have local people going out to make money to feed their families and to survive, so they're your on-the-ground poachers that are recruited, then you have professional poachers that are moving into different regions or provinces. All tend to link in to the same distributors. Zambia - southern Africa. On the outskirts of the capital Lusaka, they're tracking down the distributors and criminals. The authorities are stepping up enforcement in key nations all over Africa and Zambia is one of them. Interpol is launching its biggest ever operation against the illegal ivory trade, involving 14 countries across the continent. David Higgins is Interpol's man on the ground, advising the hard-pressed local law enforcement. We want to detect, apprehend and suppress the criminal activities. We want to be able to demonstrate that over the next nine days. This road is the main smuggling route for ivory poached from the nearby national park into Lusaka. Today, officers have set up a road block. Good afternoon, sir. All right? Please park over here. The operation includes officers from the Zambian Wildlife Authority, local police and customs and has been in planning for nearly a year. We got a lot of intelligence information, linking us to a lot of people in Lusaka, some of them that are keeping ivory in their homes. After three days, the first proper breakthrough. Officers prepare to arrest a suspected smuggler they have been tracking for two weeks. The officers are concerned he may be armed. Hello? KNOCKS ON DOOR Do you want me to break the door? Open the door! Please, sit down. Sit down. CONVERSATION IN LOCAL LANGUAGE The suspect is found with two raw tusks stashed under the bed, worth £2,000. If found guilty, he could get anything from five to 15 years in jail. The officers get a break as they get more information about the gang. They set up a rendezvous with another of them, but they shoot the suspect's tyres as he tries to flee. Inside his van, ivory, but more importantly, a wealth of intelligence on the smuggling syndicate. This guy, actually, it has taken us more than ten years to apprehend. For years, officers have only known the suspect under an alias, but now they hope to discover his true identity. They take him to his home to search for details on his buyers and the rest of the network. The phone might be of value to you. Oh, yes.