We Won't Let The World's Elephants and Rhinos Be Poached Into Extinction!

Ian Somerhalder Foundation

The poaching of wild animals is not a new problem, but it has become an epidemic. Poaching is spreading around the world and at risk of leaving behind one of the worst possible outcomes – the extinction of creatures that have been calling Earth home for millions of years.

What is animal poaching?   

Animal poaching is when an animal is killed illegally, and it usually occurs when the animal possesses something that is considered valuable, often for an animal’s fur or ivory.

Rhino horn is considered highly valued in many countries, as they believe it’s an important ingredient in many medicines: when ground down, rhino horn can be used to cure cancer. 1 4 In actuality, rhino horn has the same medicinal effect as chewing on one’s fingernails, meaning IT HAS NO MEDICINAL VALUE. 10 Despite this fact, Chinese pharmaceutical companies continue to manufacture medicine derived from rhino horn. 10 The latest statistics show that since the beginning of the year, two hundred and forty five rhinos have been poached in South Africa2, approximately two per day.  Even the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, has recently spoken out against the illegal trade of rhino horn, calling those involved, “ignorant, selfish, and utterly wrong”. He made his point clear, that if action isn't taken NOW, the species will disappear forever. 3

Unfortunately, rhinos are not the only creatures being poached. Elephants are being poached for their ivory every day, and it is destroying their populations. 1

The Gentle Giants: Elephants

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were a few million African elephants and approximately100,000 Asian elephants. Today, those numbers have dropped to approximately 450,000-700,000 African elephants and 35,000-40,000 Asian elephants, respectively. Both the African and Asian elephant are now considered endangered.5                                                                                                                             

Elephants are extremely intelligent and possess amazing memories. They are so intelligent that researchers believe the often seen act of elephants placing their truck over one tusk is their “sign” that they do not mean harm, and they are friendly and peaceful. 7 Elephants form deep familial bonds and live in matriarchal groups, which are led by the oldest, and often largest, female in the herd.  Calves are raised and protected by the entire herd. And just like humans, they show emotions such as grief, joy, anger, and playfulness. They can communicate with each other over long distances by producing sub-sonic rumbles that travel over the ground faster than sounds travels through air, and the other elephants receive the message through the sensitive skin on their feet and trunks. 6

The tusks of an elephant have many purposes. They are used as weapons if they must fight other elephants. They also use them to dig into soil in order to retrieve minerals, to break trees, and even use them as a place to rest their heavy trunks. Most importantly, they use their tusks to harvest grass, their dietary staple. Once they bundle a group of grass together with their trunk, they use their tusk to pull it from the soil. And just like humans do with their hands, elephants often favor one tusk over the other when they work. 7

Elephant Poaching

Much like rhino poaching, elephant poaching is also, unfortunately, on the rise. Last month, the government of the African nation of Gabon made plans to burn the stockpile of elephant ivory in its possession. They did this to show their commitment to tackling illegal wildlife trade, which includes ivory taken from elephants. 8

Typically, it is the largest adults with the biggest tusks that are poached, making the matriarchs the most vulnerable as their groups are easier to spot than adult males living in solitude. And unfortunately, the youngest offspring are often poached alongside their mothers. The loss of a matriarch changes their social and physiological functioning, and the remaining offspring often wind up living alone or in a group of unrelated females. The long-term effects are still being researched and studied. 9

In 2011, there were approximately thirteen large-scale seizures of ivory, and over twenty-three tons of ivory were seized. That represents at least 2,500 elephants, if not more. Later that year, seven hundred and twenty seven pieces were found in a container on its way to Asia. 11

Enforcing Poaching Laws

Vietnam, China, Thailand, and Korea are just a few countries with markets for horn and tusk. Illegal traders will go out of their way to evade the law by routing their shipments throughout Europe and Asia. Due to the high demand and value, the act of poaching is now often in the hands of sophisticated and advanced crime organizations that are able to work on a large scale, utilizing helicopters, veterinary medication, and high powered weapons thus making it very hard for law enforcement to keep up with them. CONSISTENT AND STRICTER LEGISLATION, ENFORCEMENT, AND PENALTIES ARE NEEDED! 12 Governments must work together across their borders to stop illegal trading.

What Can Be Done: The Kenyan Wildlife Service, an Example

The country of Kenya loses approximately two elephants a week due to poaching. The Kenyan Wildlife Service works to conserve and manage Kenyan wildlife, as well as enforce related laws and regulations. Some of these areas include:

Species Conservation: to protect and ensure survival of particular endangered species.

International Arena: Coordination of biodiversity related multi-lateral environmental agreements (MEAS), formation of the African Elephant Coalition and CITES convention.

National Security:  KWS is a disciplined and uniformed force, supplementing national security. KWS protects wildlife, people, and property.

Combating Wildlife Crime:  Proactive, preventive and reactive measures have been put in place to enhance the safety of wildlife. Ground and aerial patrols are used to target poachers and to provide security for wildlife, wildlife habitats, and tourists.

  • Dog Units: Dog units are also used at the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute in Naivasha to enhance security of wildlife within and outside the sanctuary.14

Recently, Julius Kipng'etich, the director of the Kenya Wildlife Service spoke to the United States Senate about the surging illegal wildlife trade, where ivory is more expensive than gold. Poachers are using sophisticated weaponry, and it has become dangerous for the rangers.

Kenya is working hard to build up international support on elephant and rhino protection before the next CITES meeting next year which will be held in Beijing. "Our position has not changed. There should be no trade in ivory from the two animals," said the KWS spokesman Mr. Mbugua.

It is difficult to prove the crime of poaching in a court of law, so the Kenyan Wildlife Service has launched a forensic and genetic laboratory at its headquarters which will be able to identify the source of bush meat or game trophy and will also be able to identify which community the animal came from. 13

Working Together To End Poaching

The Ian Somerhalder Foundation aims to empower, educate and collaborate with people and projects to positively impact the planet and its creatures. We have joined forces with Taia Global's Project Grey Goose to bring global attention to the ongoing poaching crisis. Working together, we hope to make this crisis history. In May, Jeffrey Carr, the CEO of Taia Global made the following statement:

“I'm pleased to announce that the fourth Project Grey Goose investigation, commencing today, will target the very serious problem of domestic and international poaching of endangered species…This project will focus on criminals who are viciously taking the lives of rare and beautiful animals for body parts and profit; i.e. poachers. The problem is vast and growing, and it's my sincere hope that Project Grey Goose's unique international collaborative approach to OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) will make an impact.” 15



2012: The Year of the Rhino

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia declared June 5, 2012 as the start of the International Year of the Rhino. The survival of the Javan and Sumatran Rhinos greatly depend of the conservation action in Indonesia. The Indonesian government has committed to:

  • Establishing a high-level rhino task force of national and international experts,
  • Allocating sufficient resources to enforce protection of their remaining rhinos; and
  • Ensuring that there is regular, intensive monitoring of all rhinos in Indonesia.

Their goal for this year is for Africa and Asia to join them and make saving the rhino populations a priority, and to get illegal hunting and trading under control. Indonesia is taking isolated rhinos and moving them to protected areas, and is working to improve their habitat by removing invasive plants, and adding additional sources of water. 16 Susie Offord, the Deputy Director of Save the Rhino International stated:

“The International Year of the Rhino has come at a critical time for all rhino species as they struggle for their very survival more so now than ever. We hope that through making this year the ‘Year of the Rhino’, it will inspire both the range countries where rhinos live and the countries where rhino horn is being bought, to take more action to protect these unique animals. This year could become the turning point when rhino conservation starts to win the battle and secures these amazing animals’ survival for future generations to enjoy.” 17

Remember to do your part in fighting the global extinction of elephants and rhinos-NEVER BUY PRODUCTS MADE OF IVORY OR RHINO HORN! Think about what is lost every time somebody does.



















12 http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/rhino-horn-poaching.html#cr

13 http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Poachers+funding+Al+Shabaab+reveals+KWS+/-/1056/1429812/-/item/0/-/b1lx70z/-/index.html

14 http://www.kws.org/

15 http://jeffreycarr.blogspot.com/2012/05/announcing-project-grey-goose-operation.html

16 http://www.wcs.org/press/press-releases/iucn-year-of-the-rhino.aspx

17 http://www.savetherhino.org/latest_news/press_centre/press_releases/463_international_year_of_the_rhino