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Remembering Top Wildlife Trade Investigator: 'It Is A Great Loss'

Feb 5, 2018
Originally published on February 6, 2018 11:18 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the world's leading investigators into the ivory trade was found dead yesterday at his home in Nairobi, Kenya. Esmond Bradley Martin, who was an American, risked his life to secretly document the sales of elephant tusks and rhino horns. His work helped to pressure China to ban the sale of ivory. Dan Stiles, a wildlife trade investigator, worked with Martin for many years, and he is on the line from Diani Beach, Kenya.

Sorry for your loss, sir.

DAN STILES: Thank you. And it is a great loss.

INSKEEP: How long did you work with Esmond Martin?

STILES: In one way or another, I worked with him for about 40 years. But in wildlife trade studies, it was about 19 years.

INSKEEP: And what was his technique?

STILES: Well, Esmond actually revolutionized the way wildlife trade investigations were carried out because he was one of the first people to actually gather quantitative data. And, posing as a buyer, he would go in and take surveys of all of the different items that he saw for sale. He would get the prices, he would find where they were made, who was manufacturing them, where the raw materials came from, et cetera, et cetera. So he'd produced some of the first very detailed quantified studies of wildlife trade.

INSKEEP: And we mentioned this led to changes that pressured China to ban the sale of ivory, for example. Was this risky work?

STILES: It certainly could be. There were times when both of us were in rather precarious situations because you can imagine, we're posing as buyers. And then if you don't buy, the seller can get a bit upset or a bit suspicious at times. So we had to be very careful in situations that we put ourselves in.

INSKEEP: And this is essentially organized crime, isn't it?

STILES: Yes, very much so. These are very unscrupulous businessmen that really don't care about wildlife except as a source of profit.

INSKEEP: So now we have to turn to his death. What have you heard?

STILES: Well, from the descriptions I've heard, it sounds like a robbery. It doesn't sound like a targeted assassination, but unless they actually catch the perpetrators and interrogate them, we won't really ever know.

INSKEEP: I suppose this is a reminder that if you're going to do work like this, you may have to live in an insecure place, and if you're there a long time that raises the risk of something happening to you.

STILES: No. You're absolutely right. And with the stakes of wildlife trade today, it's getting even more dangerous, especially with the increased law enforcement. The traffickers are beginning to feel the pressure, and they can act quite dangerously at times.

INSKEEP: So we don't know that this particular death had a connection to the ivory trade, but we should be aware that people who try to stop this trade are are facing a risk.

STILES: Absolutely. I mean, I'm sure you've heard of Wayne Lotter. He definitely was murdered in Tanzania. He was doing similar kinds of work.

INSKEEP: Have there been a lot of such cases?

STILES: Not a lot, but they seem to be increasing in frequency.

INSKEEP: Mr. Stiles, thank you very much.

STILES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Dan Stiles is a wildlife trade investigator who knew and worked with Esmond Bradley Martin, killed in Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.