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Ivory, Horn and Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis

by Ronald Orenstein

In the tradition of crusading animal lovers such as Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, zoologist, lawyer, and wildlife conservationist Ronald Orenstein has penned a passionate call to rescue two of the planet’s oldest and most recognizable species: the elephant and rhino. Both face imminent extinction not so much from the usual media culprit these days – human-induced climate change – but from an international criminal enterprise.

At a time when scientists are finally beginning to learn about the remarkable similarities between humans and elephants – everything from social habits and communication to an ability (unmatched by mammals other than beavers) to manipulate their environments – the species is at risk of disappearing because of the automatic weapons brandished by poachers and international gangs who fund wars and other criminal activities through the sale of ivory tusk. Despite the best efforts of sympathetic governments and conservationists, including armed guards dispatched to protect herds of rhinos, little appears to stem the lust for ivory, which is used for everything from talismanic gifts to impotence cures.

With rhino horn said to be as valuable as gold or cocaine, especially in East Asia, shady profiteers let nothing stand in their way, and some 700 park rangers charged with animal protection have been murdered. Orenstein and his colleagues wrestle with possible solutions, from new treaties to legalizing the ivory trade as a means of setting controls, but the uphill battle continues.

Ivory, Horn and Blood testifies to its author’s encyclopedic knowledge of the issues, from an understanding of elephants and rhinos’ roles in maintaining the African and Asian ecosystems to their unique interactions with humans. The author is intimately familiar with international efforts to ban the ivory trade and quash poachers, and has clearly had his hopes dashed by each new strategy to subvert whatever minimal protections against poaching are put in place.

Orenstein has a tendency to overload the reader with the minutiae of international conventions and debates, but this does not detract from the forceful plea he makes. As someone repeatedly digging in his heels for another stand to save the great mammals, he writes about the fight with equal parts passion, knowledge, and commitment.