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From Victim to Villain: A New Way To Report on Wildlife Crime

Investigative reporter Bryan Christy discusses how he took on wildlife trafficker Anson Wong—and won.

Too often, stories about the exploitation of wildlife have focused on the innocent animals, while ignoring the villains behind the crimes. Here at Wildlife Watch, our goal is to give voice to vulnerable wildlife. But it’s also to put a face on the people threatening such animals.

The illegal trade in plant and animal products has become a multibillion-dollar industry. And traffickers are becoming increasingly organized, similar to the crime syndicates involved in the drug trade. Yet the illegal wildlife trade isn’t always taken seriously, making it easier for smugglers to evade detection—and when they do get caught, the penalties may be trivial.

Bryan Christy, the chief correspondent for National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, wants to change attitudes about wildlife crime. This desire took him to Malaysia, where he tracked down wildlife dealer Anson Wong, who had spent more than five years in a U.S. prison in the 1990s for smuggling animals. Wong kept his illicit business running while in prison and had plans to take it even further after his release, Christy reported in National Geographic’s The Kingpin.

Watch Christy discuss his first encounter with Wong, the smuggler’s plan to create a tiger farm, and how Christy’s own story led to Wong’s conviction and imprisonment in Malaysia. Christy spoke on October 22 to an audience at a National Geographic Live! event.

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to