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Plugged In-Elephants TRANSCRIPT


On Plugged In …

the giants of Earth …

running for their lives …

illegally hunted …

for their ivory tusks.


"we collectively as humans should be concerned and should be saddened by the fact that these majestic creatures are being killed for their ivory"

Travel deep …

into the forests of Gabon ...

with VOA Pentagon correspondent ...

Carla Babb ...

documenting the work ...

of U.S. special forces ...

to help protect the elephants.


"it’s very clear when you’re around them that they’re extremely emotional and very, very sensitive. They mourn their dead. We have footage of them"

Plus, actress Kristin Davis ...

on her work …

raising awareness …

of poaching for ivory.

On Plugged In ...

Protecting the Elephants.



Hello and welcome …

to Plugged In.

I’m Greta Van Susteren …

reporting from Washington DC.

Wildlife protectors say …

more than 20 thousand …

African elephants …

are killed by poachers …

every year.

In the Zambezi Valley …

of Zimbabwe ...

The elephant population …

at the UNESCO …

World Heritage site...

shrunk from 20 thousand …

to 12 thousand …

in the last 20 years.

Gabon is home to....

more forest elephants ...

than anywhere else in world.

VOA Pentagon correspondent …

Carla Babb ...

imbedded with a group …

of U.S. special forces …

that went deep in the forests …

to train Gabonese …

anti-poaching soldiers ...

working to protect …

the remaining elephant population.

Here is part one of her documentary.

[[PKG/BABB part 1]]

(music, Narrator Carla)

Overwhelming power, overpowered by greedy men – wiling to kill for their ivory.


We’ve been shot at.

We are now in war.


“What’s at stake is the future of Gabon. If we don’t beat the poachers, Gabon will go the way of CAR – we will lose our country.”


In this tiny Central African nation, park rangers called eco guards man the front lines. And the U.S. military has answered their call for help.


“We not only help them preserve the wildlife, but at the same time, we’re disrupting criminal organizations and we’re helping them develop a better future.”

(music/nats/Carla VO)

VOA is the first news media outlet to embed with the U.S. military on a counter poaching mission. We followed a small army team to see how American training and resources are strengthening the rangers.


“In some of the parks, they already are a true paramilitary force. They’re having gun battles about once a month.


This is the fight for Gabon’s forest.

(open animation)


“Pull a leaf out there, it’s like asparagus. I eat everything that gorillas eat.”

(off-cam) “What’s it taste like?”

“This tastes like, it’s like cucumber I guess.”


For biologist Lee White, the nation’s Minister of Forest, Gabon is a paradise.

(SOT – White)

“When you see elephants walking along the beach, then you see a humpback whale breaching in the background, then you think to yourself, ‘is this real?’”




“But that’s Gabon, that’s what Gabon like.”

(Carla standup)

Gabon is home to more forest elephants than anywhere else in the world. But over the past couple of decades, they’ve been killed by poachers by the tens of thousands.


“Tragically we’ve lost about 70% of the forest elephants of Central Africa in the last 15 years. Between Gabon and Northern Congo, we’re the only places that are really hanging on.”


Gabon’s vast rainforests cover almost the entire country, making it a perfect home for the African forest elephant.


Unlike their cousins that thrive in the savannas of eastern and southern Africa, forest elephants of West and Central Africa are smaller, with straight tusks rather than curved ones, to better maneuver in dense trees and underbrush.


Female forest elephants do not start breeding until they are more than 20 years old, leading wildlife experts to estimate that it takes more than 50 years for the species to double their population. According to the World Wildlife Fund, poachers kill at least 20,000 African elephants each year for their tusks, despite a ban on international ivory trade. Forest elephants have been hit the worst.


The World Wildlife Fund’s biomonitoring report indicates there are now less than 10,000 forest elephants in Central Africa. DRC, CAR and Cameroon have all lost more than 90% of their forest elephant populations since 2011. Gabon and Congo now hold Africa’s largest forest elephant populations. Gabon’s elephant population is down about a third, a blow that’s been lessened due to increased resources for conservation.


“I had about 100 staff, I had no cars. So managing 13 national parks in a country the size of the UK with no cars was quite a struggle. We had to hitchhike to get to the parks. Then we went from a budget of about 500,000 per year to 25 million dollars.”


Since 2007, Gabon’s national parks have grown from about 100 eco guards on the payroll to more than 850.


“To do a job like this, it takes a lot of physical effort. It takes a lot of sacrifice and it takes a lot of motivation.”


“We have a duty to preserve this ecosystem, this nature, this biodiversity for future generation like our predecessors, our elders did for us.”

[[GRETA ]]

VOA was the first …

media organization …

to embed with …

U.S. Special Forces …

countering elephant poaching.

I spoke to Carla Babb …

about her experience ...

and the impact of ...

American resources ...

on the effort.


Greta Van Susteren: Carla, I know all your work for VOA at the Pentagon, but now this mini doc on elephants, why?

Carla Babb: I was actually speaking with some military officers back in December of 2016, way back then. And we were talking about all the activities that the US military does Africa and I said, No, I bet you guys do some really cool things. So after a long conversation we decided we decided the counter poaching was something that nobody was talking about and the US military is actually helping out with, they've been helping out since 2009, it's very small 2,3,4,5 person teams that go out there to help with the counter poaching activities, but it's been going on it's been in Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, Chad Malawi and obviously Gabon.

Greta Van Susteren: So why is the US military involved?

Carla Babb: When you think of the US military you think of fighting extremist groups and training military teams on how you know rule of law and how to shoot their weapons, but this is something that various African nations have asked for. They understand that the US is one of the largest international funders, to help with wildlife preservation there, and they know that they need to be more professional because, as one of one of the people that I was speaking with says you can't just go up to a poacher and say, Excuse me, give me your gun. You have to be prepared to fight them and you can't fight them unless you have a plan to capture them a plan to push them out of the parks.

Greta Van Susteren: Is there a particular type of elephant that was in this area that you were protecting?

Carla Babb: Yes so Africa, actually has two different types of elephants, there's Savanna elephant that most people are used to seeing those are the massive elephants with that are in the savannas. And then there are the smaller forest elephants and they have you know straighter tusks so they can maneuver around the brush they are smaller so they can maneuver in the jungles in the forest. And those are the elephants that they are trying to save in Gabon and Congo.

Greta Van Susteren: What happens if you get caught killing an elephant and trying to take its tusk?

Carla Babb: They're trying to make the laws a lot stricter and Lee White, who was the minister that I was speaking to said that they were being that was being very effective because they're trying to get across that this is necessary for Gabon to survive.

Greta Van Susteren: Did the elephants, ignore you, or did they, were they threatened by you or just spying on you. What was your sort of your interaction with these elephants?

Carla Babb: I had this one encounter with a mother and a baby and that was the one time where the park ranger said there is a baby we’re far enough away to where she shouldn't worry, but you don't want to start charging or walking quickly are making fast movements towards them. That was the only time where I felt that there was going to be any sort of conflict. And then of course we were out too late at night and one came right in front of our vehicle.(laughter)

Greta Van Susteren: Is there a way to sort of describe the poaching in terms of, you know, is it how prevalent, is it is it going, going down going up with how do you describe it right now?

Carla Babb: They say the poaching is decreasing. The problem is these elephants take a really long time to reproduce and to double their population. You look at the surrounding countries and they've lost 90% of their elephant populations. They wait until it was too late, they didn't put in the resources. And now, the elephants have moved into Gabon on the Congo, Gabon has been very proactive on this, and you have to hand it to the Ministry of forest, for being so proactive on this and saying we don't want this to happen in our country.

Greta Van Susteren: Did you shoot this yourself or do you bring a crew?

Carla Babb: It was just a two-person team, it was myself and my videographer, Ricki she was fantastic. We had to, we were early risers and going to bed very late every single day. But it was a really neat experience and so she would film. The majority of the stuff and then I filmed a little bit on my iPhone so we could get a couple of different angles. We had another VOA Africa reporter that had been in Gabon, the year prior. And I use some of her footage she was in another one of the parks than the national parks, so we were able to work together to share footage that way,

Greta Van Susteren: Well it’s a fantastic documentary, and one other thing is the, the, the elephant, what a magnificent animal isn't it?

Carla Babb: I had seen elephants before in Sri Lanka, but I had never seen them out in their natural habitat, just walking around, and that was fascinating to me and I'll never forget that and it, it's really motivated me once you see the elephants and see how majestic they are. You don't want them to disappear. It's amazing how it came together in the midst of a global pandemic. In the midst of everything that has been happening this year in 2020 and I'm really proud of the team that we've had.

Greta Van Susteren: Carla, thank you very much. It’s a great documentary.

Carla Babb: Thank you


Challenges over resources …

Along with violence …

and illegal gold miners ...

have threatened …

even the director ...

of the Heritage site.

And the park’s …

open borders ...

with Congo and Cameroon …

complicates the effort …

to protect the elephants.

Here is part two …

of Carla Babb’s documentary.



“See there -is that a baby?”

(SOT French)

“If I hear the elephants, or gorillas, there is a python here. I have no problem. But if I hear that there are human voices 15 km from a village, or I see fresh machete cuts far away from there, I am really in danger.”


“The level of violence has been rising, the last 5 years or so. Until about 5 years ago, we’d never had anybody shot at. Now it’s commonplace. We had some illegal goldminers who were also doing poaching, tried to kill our technical director a couple of months ago. He went into a camp and they immediately opened fire on him.”

(SOT-Technical Director)

“You know, it’s a wall- I am talking about men of 20-50 people in the forest, with AK-47, rifles, so it’s complicated in the forest.


Minkebe National Park is considered the most dangerous post for eco guards bordered by Congo to the east and Cameroon to the north. Poachers flood the park and escape capture by darting across the river to another country. Narcisee Baba Obame is the patrol chief there.


“When we’re on patrol, we are always scared because at Minkebe National Park, you never know whether you will get out alive. At Minkebe National Park, you can find yourself face to face with the poachers without even having a map or a plan. You could just be walking on a trail and bump into a poacher and he will immediately start firing. It happens. To be honest with you, I’m a human being and when I’m on a mission, I’m always stressed. But since this is my job and I love my job, I make sure that I always do it right.”


Today even some of the safest parks are under attack.


The Cameroonian poachers are now at enough of a, 40 km from here. They are around Minzeke, Minzeke is less than 100 km from here. So this is why all the elephants are coming, going to the coast, because they are afraid by these poachers.



As a new day in Lope begins, this cadence brings hope…



Because these eco guards are training to be the leaders of the counter poaching fight. And they’re not alone.


“Could somebody brief your medical plan?”


A group of U.S. soldiers are here to increase their chances of survival.

(nats-soldier giving instructions)


Today the Americans have created an exercise to hunt down and capture a group of men posing as poachers inside the park. Army Captain Kevin Chapla leads the team.

(SOT- Chapla)

“If an injury does happen in real life, all the training stops. So I would just advise you guys to watch where you’re stepping. We’ve seen like giant snakes down there. So if you get bit by something, just bring it to our attention and we’ll proceed accordingly.”


“So right now our training patrol has, they’re about 200M from the objective, the suspected camp of about 4 poachers. From here, they’re probably going to send out a recon element, see what they can see, come back, develop a plan and then raid the suspected poaching camp.”

(nats/training exercise raid)


US led counter poaching training operations like this one began in Tanzania in 2009 officials say. And US military efforts started in Gabon in 2018.


“Our core mission really is to build the capability of our African partners through training. So anything that is criminal in nature has the capability to have linkages with violent extremist organizations and impact the ability of the government to get the critical programs and development to the people wherever they may be at.”


“There are ammunitions here chief, oh! They have some money too!”


Months of training has improved techniques to capture poachers and preserve evidence,


“I am taking his shoes off, to try to make sure he does not have hidden documents or information that would help us successfully conduct our mission.”


And first aid training is in high demand as poachers push deeper into Gabonese land.


Conservationists in Zimbabwe …

say it has been 12 months …

Since an elephant was killed.

They say a drop in tourism ...

because of pandemic …

travel restrictions …

has not resulted …

in an increase of poaching there.

Actress Kristin Davis ...

is dedicated to inspiring change …

and raising awareness …

to stop illegal poaching.

I spoke to Kristin ...

about her work ...

with a wildlife …

trust in Kenya.


Greta Van Susteren: Okay, Kristin, who is Chaimu (prono: Shy-moo)?

Kristin Davis: (laughs) Chaimu is actually an elephant that my friends and I found who had been orphaned in Kenya. And we were on a, with an ecological group, a conservation group and an elder came out and said “oh a baby elephant is lost!” And everyone knows that they can’t survive alone. And we spent a few days searching for this baby elephant who was terrified. This is in 2009. And finally we found her, and we called the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, because everyone in Kenya knows that they know how to raise baby orphaned elephants and re-release them back into the wild, which of course is so important. And luckily she ended up there, we got her there and she now lives back in the wild in Kenya in a National Park.

Greta Van Susteren: Where was Chaimu’s mother? What happened to her?

Kristin Davis: She was probably killed, we never found her body. It was right near the border with Tanzania and in 2009 is when the elephant poaching crisis rose again. We had dealt with it in the 70s and 80s and then, because the complicated thing was, the International Court of Wildlife Trade, there was another kind of uptick where people realized they could make money on the illegal market by selling tusks. So there was a really huge crisis and, again, elephants were almost completely extinct at one point. Though we are on the upswing from that.

Greta Van Susteren: Is she still at the Wildlife Trust? Is she still there?

Kristin Davis: She’s in the wild now. They get to decide, the elephants decide themselves when they’re ready to go live back in the wild. It’s kind of a process. So she moved from the nursery to kind of the intermediate rehabilitation center which is out in the huge, huge national park called Savvo. And then eventually she, she’s a very plucky girl, my Chaimu, very very headstrong, and she and her friend Kilaguni, whose tail had been bitten off when he was alone by hyenas, they’re best buddies, and they went out into the wild together but they come back and visit their human family often. Especially during the dry season because they know they can get water from the Trust, and the Trust also has a number of anti-poaching teams that monitor the park to try to keep them safe once they are living in the wild.

Greta Van Susteren: One of the things I read is that scientists are unsure, but they think that the elephant may weep, and that the elephant grieves and the elephant cries.

Kristin Davis: Oh yes, oh yes. Oh it’s very clear when you’re around them that they’re extremely emotional and very, very sensitive. They mourn their dead. We have footage of them. If the bones of a loved one are there, they stand for days and touch the bones and you can see their, they have tear ducts and sometimes it means their excited, it can mean a lot of different things, it can even, it looks like they’re crying. But they do that also if they’re happy so you can’t always know. But if they are touching the bones of a loved one and feeling those feelings, you can pretty much tell that they’re mourning. I mean, just being around them even, you can feel a lot of their feelings. They communicate in a vibration that we can’t hear, but we can feel. So sometimes when you’re around them you go into this kind of meditative state that, you know, you’re feeling all of their communication and it’s very magical.

Greta Van Susteren: They are the most magnificent, beautiful animals and now I want to turn to the question that’s very upsetting to me: Poaching. What’s the story with the poaching now in Kenya and Africa with these elephants? Has it pretty much stopped or is it raging again?

Kristin Davis: So unfortunately, poaching is still happening in an illegal way, mostly. Though there has been a lot of success. Like for instance, Kenya, our poaching in Kenya, I think it’s down, I want to say is down 40 or 50%. And that’s because of private and public partnership. And America has actually been very helpful in terms of we sent people from our wildlife team and our State Department to the ports in Kenya to help educate them about being able to, how to track and find these illegal shipments that were happening. So because of the private-public partnership it’s really come down a lot. But I don’t know that the government could have afforded to basically wage a war, which is what it is like, by themselves. So it takes the conservation groups, which are of course funded by people like us hopefully when we can. And then there’s countries like the Congo where, because of the unrest, they really are just on the frontlines. I mean I would say every other month rangers are killed. It’s tragic. These people are giving their lives to protect these animals: gorillas, elephants, all of the wild animals. And they’re being killed. So it’s not ending, it’s different in each country depending on the government and what they’re able to do and the unrest that may crop up. So unfortunately, it’s not over everywhere.

Greta Van Susteren: So many of us who love elephants, but we actually owe a lot of gratitude to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. How did they come about?

Kristin Davis: Well Daphne Sheldrick, who is in heaven now with her elephant friends I’m sure, really pioneered raising baby elephants who had been orphaned and rereleasing them into the wild. She had no degree, she just loved the elephants. Her husband, the late David Sheldrick, was awarded in Savvo, the huge national park. So the trust has been in existence over 40 years. We’ve re-released over, like I think it’s 260 elephants into the wild. They’re now having wild-born babies, so they’re mating with wild elephants, having babies, they always bring the babies back to show to the keeper which is like the most magnificent event and the keepers are always so excited, like it’s their grandchildren- you know it’s very beautiful and so special to be a part of.

Greta Van Susteren: well Kristin thank you very much for talking to me and actually for taking care of the elephants and for helping out and putting the spotlight on this, I appreciate it.

Kristin Davis: and thank you Greta, thank you so much for giving us a platform, and your love for elephants means so much, too.

[[GRETA ]]

Teaching the future trainers ...

is the goal …

of the U.S. mission ...

in Gabon …

creating professionalism …

within the ranks ...

to fight the organized network …

of poachers and terrorists …

That scar the region.

Back now to Carla …

to show us more …

about this mission.

[[ SOT/DOC PART 3 ]]

(Carla stand up)

Here at Lope National Parks, it takes about 4 hours to drive to the nearest hospital. It takes even longer to some of the other parks, so for these eco guards, this medical training could be the difference between life and death. Army Specialist Omar Soto is the team’s medic.


“Out of the past 15 months, I think I’ve been here 11. My goal was to basically teach them how to identify injuries that are basically, could potentially take your life the quickest, give them the tools basically or the knowledge to address the injuries accordingly.”


Unlike previous counter poaching training from other nations, Chapla says the US mission with Gabon’s national park agency, known as the ANPN, is designed to train future trainers. This small group will return to parks across Gabon and their immediate job will be teaching their colleagues everything they’ve learned from the American team.


“It’s a proof of concept for them being able to instruct their own, and in fact it’s the first training sustained capability that the ANPN has ever had. So it’s pretty big.”


(SOT- French)

“There’s a saying in this world that goes, ‘it’s better to trach someone to fish than to give them fish. This is not to say that we do not need assistance, but we think that it is always good that we are more or less autonomous.”



“These eco guards are highly motivated individuals and so teaching them, not only is it fun, but it’s easy- they’re very willing to learn and willing to ask questions. And as an instructor, I don’t think it gets any better than that.

(SOT- French)

“Our attitude is different from before the training. We became a little bit more professional.


And they need to be professional to have a fighting chance against the organized crime networks and terror groups they’re facing.


“You can trace the poachers who are killing those elephants back to Boko Haram.”


The group has terrorized Nigeria and parts of West Africa, raiding villages, kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls and killing thousands of people as its leaders seek to create an Islamic caliphate.


“As I say to the US embassy several months ago, I say ‘boss, we have a decision -we work together or we work on each side. But at the end, they will be in your country not mine. But I agree they will come in my country to take ivory or money. So we really have to work together.


One thing not included in this mission – weapons training, something the rangers say they desperately want. That’s because until last year, the government didn’t allow eco guards to carry weapons. And most still have to rely on military gendarmes to patrol with them for their defense, role played in the training by eco guards carrying sticks.


“It’s got to the point where, not in all parks, but in some parks, we have to arm the eco guards as well as the gendarmes. And I have initiated that with the president’s support, saying we are in the process of buying the guns.”


“We founds these ammunitions on this guy, he might be their chief.


“Now you can’t say to a poacher, ‘sorry you guys, stay quiet and give me your gun. 2-3 months ago we were not allowed to carry weapons. Now we have weapons. And the poaching is decreasing.”


Officials hope these changes, along with international training and support, will accelerate Gabon’s counter-poaching offensive. But time is running out for the elephants and it may not be enough.


“We’re losing about 2 tons of ivory a month. That’s about 150 elephants a month. So I’m proud that we’ve made, progress that we’ve made, but it’s still catastrophic. So we still have to do more. You may win some battles, but the war keeps going.


That’s all the time …

we have for now.

Thanks to my guests …

VOA Pentagon Correspondent ...

Carla Babb ...

and Hollywood actress ...

and wildlife conservationist ...

Kristin Davis…

For joining me on this

Special edition of Plugged In.

Stay up to date …

with our website …

And follow me on Twitter @Greta.

Thank you for being Plugged In.