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Animal Info Special Report- The Poaching Crisis

African Elephant 31African Elephant 31Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska

From the Headlines

“Poachers Kill Rhino For 'One Centimetre' Of Horn”- LADBible

“More action needed to protect Africa’s elephants' says the African Elephant Coalition”- Independent

“Illicit flow of guns to South Africa a threat to rhinos”- Talk Radio 702 The Midday Report 6-25-18

“Kenya to lobby African states to enhance elephant protection”- Xinhua   2018-07-14

“Every eight hours, a rhinoceros is slaughtered in South Africa”- Sydney Morning Herald

“An Elephant is killed every 15 minutes”- World Animal Foundation

White Rhinoceros 27White Rhinoceros 27Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska

What is Poaching?


verb (used without object)

  1. to trespass, especially on another's game preserve, in order to steal animals or to hunt.

  2. to take game or fish illegally.

Source: Dictionary.com

African Elephant 22African Elephant 22Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Missouri

What is the Poaching Crisis?

Entire species of animals such elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, and bears are being hunted nearly to extinction as part of an illegal enterprise that benefits the likes of organized criminals and rebel militias.

Wildlife crime (including poaching) is now the most urgent threat to some of the world's most beloved species of animals- including African elephants, African rhinos, zebras, chimpanzees and tigers.

More elephants and rhinos are dying from poaching than from any other cause. Their tusks and horns are being traded illegally as trophies, components of “traditional medicine”, and as trinkets in a highly profitable black market.

Big cats (like lions, tigers, and cheetahs) are being killed for their bones and other body parts. Great apes, such as chimps in Central and West Africa, are being hunted as bushmeat (meat that is obtained from non-domesticated mammals) and their babies are being traded as pets. Pangolins (considered to be the most trafficked mammal in the world) are being captured for their scales and meat. And animals such as zebras and leopards are being killed for their beautiful skins.

According to the Associated Press, global wildlife crime is worth approximately $150 billion US annually. This illegal racket is valued only behind the illegal drug trade, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.

Instances of wildlife trafficking and the seizures of animal parts have significantly increased over the past few years. This illicit exchange greatly imposes upon the natural resources of countries and the wealth of businesses worldwide (such as those in the tourist industry).

High levels of poaching and illegal wildlife trade frequently take place in conflict zones, where the criminals are able to take advantage of the lack of organized protection for wildlife. The profits generated from these illegal activities also provide funding for these conflicts.

Poaching is not just a crime against wildlife! 1,000 rangers have been killed in the last ten years, which averages out to two rangers being killed per week, every week!

Sumatran Tiger 19Sumatran Tiger 19Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Missouri

Why is the Poaching Crisis Occurring?

At the heart of the illegal wildlife economy is a strong demand for illegal wildlife products. This clamor for these illicit products has increased dramatically over the past two decades. And this high demand for illegal wildlife products is bringing about an unsustainable level of hunting that is devastating the environment due to the sheer number of animals that are being harvested in an effort to meet this insatiable demand.

A major factor of this illegal wildlife market for products such as ivory and rhino horns is a growing level of affluence that is being experienced in certain parts of Asia (such as China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam), where a significant portion of the illegal wildlife marketplace exists today.

This type of illicit marketplace based upon wealth is causing many problems for conservationists because (unlike in traditional economic models) the demand for illegal wildlife items goes up as the number of illegal products available for sale goes down and the price for these items goes up.

Additionally, many persons living within East Asian countries (such as China and Vietnam) believe that wild animals are a resource to be exploited, and not something to be protected for their intrinsic value.

The concept of consuming wildlife products to indicate status is a very important one throughout parts of the world, especially East Asia. Many of the consumers of wildlife products believe it is their right to consume and utilize wildlife and they have no regard for the environmental consequences. These people also feel that environmental advocacy against it is an intolerable encroachment upon their lifestyles.

Another factor contributing to the increase of the illegal wildlife enterprise is that, over the past two decades, various East Asian countries (including Vietnam and China) have opened up their economies and have bolstered their international trade connections (both legal and illegal). The development of this infrastructure has connected previously inaccessible wild and rural areas to regional and global markets.

The growing presence of Chinese businesses in Africa and Latin America has brought about the establishment of new supply chains for legal and illegal wildlife products from these regions to East Asia and East Asian immigrant communities worldwide, setting off a new global poaching wave.

Still another factor that is a great contributor to the global demand for illegal wildlife items is the practice of so-called “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (TCM), that uses natural plant, animal, and mineral-based materials to allegedly treat many different illnesses (including arthritis, fever, convulsions, delirium, cancer and “oppressive ghost dreams”), help maintain vitality and longevity, and enhance sexual potency.

TCM is practiced by hundreds of millions of people and is deeply rooted in the culture of several Asian countries (such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, and Indonesia). This practice is also prevalent in other countries around the world that have large East Asian immigrant communities like the United States and the United Kingdom.

While TCM dates back some 3,000 years, its practice is not very traditional as people keep attributing TCM qualities to products that historically have not been part of TCM. New attributes have also been added to products that have been linked to TCM in an aggressive effort to increase sales of these illegal wildlife products. For example, during the past 2 decades, rhino wine and rhino alcohol (ground-up rhino horn mixed with wine or alcohol) have been concocted as symbols of wealth, power, prestige, and status.

Elephant tusk and rhino horn are still commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine despite being found to have no more medicinal benefits than chewing on your fingernail.

Black Rhinoceros 15Black Rhinoceros 15St. Louis Zoo in St. Louis, Missouri

How Does the Poaching Crisis Affect Elephants and Rhinos?

Among the many illicit wildlife products that are in great demand is elephant ivory that is being carved into many different items such as jewelry, religious figurines, utensils, and trinkets. Additionally, Rhino horns are being fashioned into items such as libation cups that are considered to be symbols of great prestige.

Poaching and wildlife trafficking have wiped out millions of Africa's wildlife species including many of her elephants and rhinos.

The remaining populations of these animals are dangerously small and the illegal wildlife trade is growing more and more sophisticated. Both of those factors mean that the survival of keystone species like the elephant and rhino has never been more in question. (Note: A keystone species is a species of animals upon whom other species in an ecosystem chiefly depend to such an extent that if it the keystone species were removed the ecosystem would be dramatically changed.)

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Classification, African Elephants are Vulnerable, which means that these creatures are likely to become endangered unless the circumstances that are threatening their survival and reproduction improve.

The World Wildlife Fund states that, back in the early part of the 20th century, there may have been as many as 3-5 million African elephants. Now there are only roughly 415,000 of these animals remaining in the wild.

The World Wildlife Fund also indicated that approximately 20,000 to 30,000 African elephants are killed annually for their tusks and their hides (which is being tanned into leather, made into products such as boots, belts, and hand bags, and sold).

Since 2009, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of Africa’s entire elephant population has been lost!

The main threat to the existence of rhinos living all over the world is poaching. Hundreds of rhinos are killed illegally for their horns every year.

The IUCN points out that since 1960, poaching for rhino horn has brought about a decline of approximately 98% of the African rhino population (composed of White Rhinos and Black Rhinos)!

According to the IUCN Red List Classification, Black Rhinos are Critically Endangered, which means that these creatures are facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

There are only approximately 5,040 and 5,458 of these animals left in existence in the wild, determined the IUCN.

In the 1970-80’s, large-scale poaching saw Black Rhino populations decline from around 70,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,410 in 1995 – that’s a dramatic decline of 96% over a 20-year period!

According to the IUCN Red List Classification, White Rhinos are Near Threatened, which means that these creatures may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, although they do not currently qualify for the threatened status.

There are between 19,666- 21,085 White Rhinos remaining in the wild, stated the IUCN. And these creatures are bearing the brunt of the rhino poaching that is occurring in Africa today

Rhino poaching in South Africa has increased 5,000% between 2007 and 2011

1,028 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone during 2017, which works out to be nearly three rhinos killed every day!

Who are the Key Players involved in the Poaching Crisis?


Subsistence farmers living in rural areas that illegally hunt game to put food on their family table and kill wildlife they feel pose a threat to their families and to their livestock.

Commercial poachers who kill local wildlife for their meat or their products (tusks, horns, skins, etc.) and sell these items at local or regional markets.

These commercial poachers also capture rare or highly sought after wildlife and sell these live animals to interested buyers who keep these creatures as exotic pets or sell them to private zoos.

Commercial poachers also can be the bottom level of large-scale poaching syndicates and do the ground work which international criminal organizations profit from.

Chimpanzee 2Chimpanzee 2Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Missouri


Both small-scale and large-scale syndicates run poaching and trafficking operations on the ground and pay poachers, trackers, couriers, and animal part handlers modest amounts of money for their roles in acquiring the illegal wildlife products.

Syndicates take advantage of the local people (who often find it difficult to gain employment and provide for their families) in the areas where these illegal operations exist.

Additionally, syndicates create and maintain trafficking networks that provide funding for this illegal enterprise, distribute weapons to poachers and others, and bribe government officials and members of the law enforcement community. On some occasions, these syndicates have also been known to kidnap or financially indenture individuals and coerce these people into serving the syndicates as animal product carriers, guides, or even wildlife poachers.

Amur Leopard 1Amur Leopard 1Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Missouri

International Wildlife Traffickers

International wildlife traffickers are the major players of the illegal wildlife enterprise. These individuals are known to provide support to regional criminal organizations, supply weapons and financial assistance, and bribe government officials.

International wildlife traffickers secure the illicit wildlife products (ivory, rhino horn, animal skins, etc.) from regional syndicates, transport these items to major departure points (airports, harbors, etc.), and smuggle this contraband to destination markets around the world.

Illegal wildlife items are often disguised as legal items or are hidden in large container vessels so that they are difficult to detect. Rhino horn, for example, is sometimes crushed into a powder or processed into beads to get past customs authorities.

Evidence suggests that international wildlife traffickers can be linked to organized criminals, money launderers, and arms dealers.

World-renowned elephant conservationist, Iain Douglas Hamilton, once told the US Senate that the illegal wildlife trade was “often conducted by well-organized criminal networks that are undermining efforts to strengthen the rule of law and governance in many countries.”

African Elephant 16African Elephant 16Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Missouri

Regional Warlords, Extremist Groups, and Rebel Militias

In unstable parts of the world (including in Africa and Asia), regional warlords, extremist groups, and rebel militias have been using the illegal wildlife enterprise to obtain funding for their military exploits.

Certain military groups have been killing large amounts of elephants and rhinos and exchanging elephant ivory and rhino horns for weapons, food items, and much sought-after currency.

Other military organizations and their support networks engage in the illegal trafficking of wildlife that is killed for fresh bushmeat or captured to be sold as part of the exotic pet trade.

Suspected connections to armed groups such as the Lord Resistance Army in Uganda have led to ivory being dubbed “Blood Ivory”.

Corrupt Government and Law Enforcement Officials

Corrupt government officials throughout Eastern and Southern Africa have played a big role in allowing criminal syndicate members to traffic wildlife parts and have even been known to be suspects of poaching and trafficking.

Additionally, law enforcement officials have been implicated of poaching, stealing illegal wildlife items like elephant ivory and rhino horns from secure stockpiles, and trafficking these illegal wildlife products themselves.

Grevy's Zebra 1Grevy's Zebra 1Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas

Why is It Important to Stop the Poaching Crisis?

There is mounting evidence that the illegal wildlife trade is a source of funding for organized crime and global terrorist networks (up to a reported $10 billion US a year​!) This shows that illicit wildlife trafficking doesn’t just affect the security of one habitat or one species of animals​ — it affects the security of us all!

Large illegal economies (including wildlife trafficking) can have a significant negative impact upon judicial systems and the rule of law. As the illegal enterprise grows, it generates a large amount of funds that can be used to bribe law enforcement officials and members of the judiciary. This in turn decreases the number of illegal wildlife crimes that are being investigated and prosecuted, and greatly undermines the concept of the rule of law.

Additionally, powerful traffickers often turn to violence (such as killing or bribing prosecutors, judges, and witnesses) in an effort to avoid being apprehended and prosecuted.

Moreover, large-scale illicit enterprises (including wildlife trafficking) can threaten societies politically by providing a means for members of criminal organizations to enter the political arena and undermine the entire democratic process. By using the substantial financial resources produced by these illicit economies, members of these illegal organizations can obtain official positions of power and authority as well as wield influence from behind the scenes thereby compromising the legitimacy of an entire political system.

The illegal and unregulated trade and consumption of wildlife can also cause great harm worldwide by spreading viruses and diseases, endangering local species and food supplies, and facilitating the cross-species transfer of diseases from animals to humans.

Another grave threat posed by the illegal wildlife enterprise is the irreversible loss of animal species and a decrease in the Earth’s biodiversity.

For example, the rapid decline of Africa's keystone species (animals such as elephants and rhinos that have a major impact upon the environments in which they live) over the past few decades has been devastating not only to national economies that depend on wildlife tourism but also to entire ecosystems as other species depend upon those animals for their own survival.

Elephants are known as “ecosystem engineers” due to their tendency to knock over trees and trample over shrubby areas in the savannah. This keeps forests, which otherwise would overtake open grasslands, in check and creates paths upon which other species of animals (including humans) travel.

Additionally, during times of drought and while traveling in dry environments, elephants (who can smell water from more than 3 miles away!) use their tusks to dig for water. This not only allows elephants to survive in these harsh conditions, it also allows other creatures who live in these arid habitats to obtain water.

African elephants are also one of the major ways in which seeds are dispersed. Wherever these creatures live, elephants leave behind dung that is full of seeds from the many plants they eat. When this dung (a great fertilizer that is extremely important for maintaining nutrient-rich soils) is deposited the seeds are sown and grow into new grasses, bushes and trees, thereby increasing the health of the entire savannah ecosystem.

As one of the most iconic species of animals in Africa, elephants are tourism magnets, and help attract the funds needed to protect wilderness areas.

In East Africa, the multibillion dollar tourist economies (which are decades in the making) are currently at risk. Tanzania’s elephant herd is being slaughtered, with an estimated 50 percent of the population killed in the last six years.  As Tanzanian President Kikwete recently stated: “We are under attack.”

National Geographic Magazine stated in their blog that “Elephants matter not only because of their ecological importance, their aesthetic beauty and power, and their value to developing economies but because their very existence symbolizes stability, security, and the triumph of good governance and the rule of law.”

African rhinos (according to a recent study published by Scandinavian and South African researchers in the Journal of Ecology) maintain the diverse African grasslands upon which countless other species depend. Rhinos, like other grazing species, selectively browse on certain species of vegetation, and leave a variety of edible plants for numerous other animals (such as zebra, gazelle and antelope) to eat.

Besides providing food for numerous species of animals like rhinos, grasslands (like African savannahs) play an important global role, as well. These environs also help remove carbon dioxide (a cause of global warming) from the atmosphere. Due to an increase in industrialization on the continent, Africa's carbon emissions will likely increase substantially throughout the 21st century and healthy grasslands will be even more needed to soak up these harmful gasses.

Rhinos help bring about economic growth and sustainable development through the tourism industry. This development creates job opportunities and provides benefits to local communities. Essentially, rhinos help create diversity for these local communities.

If entire populations of rhinos vanish from the globe, the result could be catastrophic for African savannas — and potentially the whole world. The removal of a keystone species like rhinos has huge downstream effect in the ecosystem they inhabit and can throw the entire community out of whack.

Why is it important to support the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF)?

“In large parts of the world, there is an urgent need to increase resources for wildlife law enforcement” says Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Senior Fellow-Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institute and author of the book “The Extinction Market: Wildlife Trafficking and How to Counter It”

Vanda adds in her book: “In situ law enforcement (law enforcement that is on site) is by far the most effective and important form of law enforcement (in the fight against poaching) as the goal is to minimize the number of animals illegally removed from the wild.”

Ms. Felbab-Brown further states in her work that “There is a strong positive correlation between the number of guards and the success of protecting conservation areas.” But she goes on to say in her book that “Elementary skill sets continue to be deficient among rangers and wildlife-enforcement officers in many parts of the world.”

The International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) is a direct action wildlife conservation organization that was founded in 2009 by Damien Mander, a former sniper and clearance diver for the Royal Australian Navy. 

Through the IAPF, Damien is training rangers to utilize militaristic tactics like the ones he employed and taught during his 12 tours of duty in Iraq to protect wildlife in Africa. This training is invaluable for rangers as poachers themselves often use paramilitary strategies and weapons to track down and kill wildlife. To date, the IAPF has assisted with the training of hundreds of rangers in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.

One of the shining successes of the IAPF is their the Akashinga program (“The Brave Ones” in Shona) which was launched by Mander in 2017. This conservation initiative focuses on establishing a new force of all-female wildlife rangers who are tasked with protecting rhinos, elephants and other wildlife from poachers. To date, Akashinga has recruited and trained approximately three dozen women.

Through Akashinga, Damien has been deviating from the traditional “militarized paradigm of ‘fortress conservation’ that defends colonial boundaries between nature and humans.” Instead Damien has been putting the focus on forging personal connections in rural communities, working with the local populations, and hiring locals (all women) to prevent wildlife crime in areas that have been lacking protection.

The anti-poaching, community-empowering efforts of Akashinga have been paying off. To date, the Akashinga team has made approximately 60 arrests that have resulted in more than 41 years of prison sentences. This all-female ranger unit’s actions have resulted in arrests for serious crimes related to ivory smuggling, zebra poaching and sable antelope snaring.

The long-term success of the IAPF and the Akashinga program will depend upon funding and support from concerned individuals and like-minded organizations. But so far, the anti-poaching efforts of this dedicated organization called the “International Anti-Poaching Foundation” have proven to be effective.

For more information on the IAPF and their Akashinga program, click here!

And for more information on the November 4 event that Joe's CowtownPhotos is having to benefit the IAPF, click here!

African Elephant 1African Elephant 1Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Missouri


The information provided in this Animal Info page was compiled by Joe Hoffman (St. Pius X Elementary School Class of 1986 and Founder/Owner of Joe’s Cowtown Photos) and was proof-read and edited by Anita Striegel (Retired 8th Grade Teacher from St. Pius X Elementary School- Joe’s former teacher!)

White Rhinoceros 29White Rhinoceros 29Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska


Felbab Brown, Vanda. The Extinction Market: Wildlife Trafficking and How to Counter It (book)

Rademeyer, Julian. Killing for Profit: Exposing the Illegal Rhino Horn Trade (book)

Orenstein, Ronald. Ivory, Horn and Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis (book)

NPR 3-29-17: Good News For Elephants: China's Price Of Ivory Has Plummeted

NPR 1-27-17: China Says It Will Shut Down Its Ivory Trade in 2017

African Wildlife Foundation website

Veterans For Wildlife website

Conservation International’s Wildlife Poaching and Trafficking page

National Geographic 7-13-18:  Deaths of 8 Rare Rhinos in Kenya Is ‘Major Step Back’

The Independent 7-11-18: The shocking truth about illegal ivory in Europe

Vogue 6-21-18: Who Will Save the Elephants?

United for Wildlife website

Poaching Facts website

The Elephant Society website

Smithsonian  2-27-17: Here’s What Might Happen to Local Ecosystems If All the Rhinos Disappear

Business Insider 10-24-14: Why The Extinction Of All Rhinos Could Be Catastrophic

Conservation Magazine 2-19-14:  What will happen after the rhinos are gone?

Baby Rhino Rescue 5-2-16: Rhino Extinction Could Be Catastrophic

Save the Elephants: Why are Elephants Important?

Greentumble 8-24-16: The Role of Elephants in Maintaining a Healthy Ecosystem

National Geographic Blog 9-25-13:  Why Elephants Matter

Save the Rhino Poaching Stats

Earth Island Journal 11/15/17: From the War in Iraq to the War against Poaching

Chicago Tonight 10/26/16: From Elite Soldier to Anti-Poaching Crusader

The Sydney Morning Herald 6/21/17: Every eight hours, a rhinoceros is slaughtered in South Africa

The Nature Conservancy: Elephants and Ivory: Our Work to End Africa's Poaching Crisis

International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF.org)

The Relevator 7-16-2018: The Fight to Stop Poaching: What If We’ve Been Doing It Wrong?

One Green Planet 7-17-2018: Meet the Vegan, All-Female Anti-Poaching Team That Has Been More Effective at Defending Animals Than Any Other


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