Student documentary captures ivory crush for OnEarth

December 20, 2013 •

There’s something very powerful about seeing six of tons of elephant ivory ground to rubble in a rock crusher, says Gloria Dickie.

She saw such an event last month. The crush was an effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to draw attention to the $10 billion illegal wildlife trade industry and send a message of intolerance to poachers and traffickers.

Dickie and fellow student Caitlin Rockett, both CU-Boulder master’s students in journalism and mass communication, produced a short documentary about the internationally covered event.

Their adviser, Michael Kodas, associate director of CU-Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism (CEJ), recruited the pair for the project, which was not for course credit. He contributed photography and helped get the video published in OnEarth, a magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Michael and CEJ director Tom Yulsman have a longstanding relationship with OnEarth and other reputable media outlets,” said Rockett. “I think this opens the door for them to say to these organizations, ‘We’ve got some hard-working students who can produce high-quality work in a timely manner and learn a great deal along the way. Give them a chance and they won’t disappoint.’ I don’t think we did.”

The ivory crush took place at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a national repository for contraband materials including ivory poached in Africa and smuggled into the U.S. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal is located near Denver.

The CU-Boulder team put many hours into the project over the span of weeks and carried out every aspect -- from research to editing -- while honing their reporting skills.

“I had not realized how many elephants were killed each year for their ivory -- tens of thousands,” said Rockett. “I learned that an elephant can’t reproduce until it’s around 25 years old, so ivory poaching is outpacing their reproduction cycle exponentially.”

The group chose a video package as the vehicle for telling the story because of the poignancy the medium can elicit.

“Using video to tell a story can definitely reveal an emotional side that print media sometimes can’t achieve, like we see with some of the clips we used,” said Dickie.

While the video captures the message of the ivory crush for all to see, the skill-building experience for the student team may prove to be unforgettable.

“Being able to do these types of assignments is exactly why I decided to move to Boulder from Ontario, Canada,” said Dickie. It was a very memorable story to cover and one of international importance. I think it’s great that students are afforded the opportunity to cover stories like this through the CEJ.”

Photo: Caitlin Rockett (right) examines a carved elephant tusk while Gloria Dickie looks on. (Michael Kodas)