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Poaching Pachyderms: Africa’s Victims of the Illegal Ivory Trade

Big Elephant Eye Animal Close-up Face EndangeredOver a three-year period of time (2010-2012) 100,000 African elephants were massacred by poachers for their ivory tusks. Since then, protection efforts have increased and elephant poaching has reportedly declined for the fifth year in a row. Yet elephant populations continue to fall. As the body count of environmental defenders begins to rise, it appears as though poachers will do whatever it takes to hit their mark.

Garamba National Park is an expansive UNESCO World Heritage site located in a remote corner of northeastern Congo.  As in many of Africa’s wildlife preserves, struggling populations of elephants at Garamba are being slain at a distressing rate.  The mammoth mammals are targeted by poachers who cut the tusks and off of the animals without any regard for the mounting casualties. Once the ivory tusks are collected, they are sold to the highest bidder on the international market. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times reported that few places in the world are as unswervingly dangerous for environmental defenders and their charges as Africa’s wildlife preserves. In 2017, 170 environmental defenders — citizens protesting mining, agribusiness, oil and gas development and logging, as well as land rights activists and wildlife rangers — were killed in the line of duty. Many of these environmental defenders are employees or volunteers at animal parks working to protect endangered species of elephant across the continent of Africa.

African Elephants in Danger
An elephant’s tusks can be both a blessing and curse. They offer a sense of true majesty to the already impressive elephant, but also, expose them as targets. Tusks—the elongated teeth that jut out of a mammal’s mouths—are common to walruses, wild boars, and both male and female African elephants. Once a dominant trait in male Asian elephants, tusks are now found in roughly 50 percent of the Asian male population— an evolutionary modification which is believed to be a result of the threats associated with poaching. Like human teeth, an elephant’s tusks are deeply rooted, covered in enamel, and comprised of firm, dense, bony tissue. These extended incisors are used to dig holes, forage for food and to fend off predators.

An African elephant's tusks will continue to grow throughout its life. Photo Source: Wiki Commons.

An African elephant’s tusks will continue to grow throughout its life. Photo Source: Wiki Commons.

The nearly 100 pounds of ivory in an elephant’s tusk has peaked the interest of poachers for centuries. Ivory, once used to fashion piano keys and billiard balls, is presently crafted into ornamental artwork and trinkets that are illegally traded on the international market. Today, China and the United States are the two largest ivory markets in the world. In China, owning ivory can be seen as a status symbol. It is typically carved into bracelets, bookmarks, statuettes, combs, and various art pieces, and can fetch as much as $1,500 per pound. However, the monetary price is minute when compared to the expense of elephant life behind each piece of ivory. There is no easy way to extract a 100 pound, fixed tooth from an elephant. To detach the tusk, it must be carved out of the skull— a process which typically requires fatality.

Despite a ban on the international ivory trade, African elephants are still being poached in colossal numbers. So much so that over the past decade, Central Africa has lost 64 percent of its elephants. Researchers now fear that more elephants are being poached than are being born. A landmark analysis conducted by Colorado State University found that between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 African elephants were killed by poachers. In 2012, one of the largest mass elephant slaughters in decades took place in Bouba Ndjidah National Park, Cameroon. Armed with grenades and AK-47s, poachers slaughtered approximately 650 elephants in roughly three months’ time. The photos circulating the web are too gruesome to share, but a quick search of the internet will deliver horrifying clarity.

This Way Forward
To combat the purchase and sale of ivory, grassroots organizations and community leaders from around the world are exposing the realities of elephant exploitation.  In China, celebrities are working to create a local consciousness and dissuade newer generations from buying ivory products.  Following the campaigns, a shift in thinking has been reported and between 2012 and 2014, the proportion of Chinese who believe elephant poaching is a problem grew from 47% to 71%. Since 2015, Chinese and US governments have agreed to work together and enact a ban on global illegal ivory trade. Some report that the number of poaching deaths in elephants has declined over the past five years, but environmental defenders still have a long road ahead. Though Africa’s open plains seem vast, the growing human population is forcing elephants into smaller habitats where it is easier for poachers to locate their prey. Wildlife organizations from around the world continue their work to protect these magnificent mammals from human disturbances and to preserve their open space.

Elephant families from Tarangire (Tanzania). Photo Credit: Alex Havasi.

Elephant families from Tarangire (Tanzania). Photo Credit: Alex Havasi.

Season’s Greetings from HWF!

It’s hard to believe that the end of the year has arrived! 2018 is less than two weeks away, and as the close of this season approaches, we at the Havasi Wilderness Foundation find ourselves in gratitude for the many hands that helped us make 2017 such a spectacular year!

2017 with the Havasi Wilderness Foundation

The foundation has had a busy year and we want to express our gratitude for the individuals that helped us fund raise through our various programs: Planet Green where we collected ink cartridges and small electronic devices for recycling and the Ralphs Community Program for those that shopped and gave their reward points to our foundation. Thanks to Telos Capital Management for helping us with our investment portfolio to bring in additional funds so we can help the next generation. At home, we recycle plastic bottles and the money collected goes back into funding the goals of this nonprofit. Because of these generous contributions we are able to educate youngsters and the general public about wildlife and our shared ecosystem.

Many blogs in 2017 were posted by Makena Crowe and we want to express our thanks to her for some well-written informative blogs. She has gone on to further her career in the legal field and we take this opportunity to wish her success and happiness in this choice.

In mid-March, we went on a National Geographic Around the World by Private Jet trip and  gathered action still-shot photos and videos of wildlife from 11 countries. We were blessed to visit 10 World Heritage sites and learned so much about cultural practices and diverse ecosystems on these travels. Shortly after our return, Alex Havasi compiled our photos into DVD format and we have given presentations at two bird clubs to share what we have learned. We thank the Ventura County Bird Club and the Conejo Valley Audubon Society for inviting us to be their guest speakers.

In the Spring, we attended the 9th Annual SAGE Student Research Conference at California State University Channel Islands. The Havasi Wilderness Foundation nonprofit funds the research program at Santa Rosa Island and this has given us the opportunity to meet each of the university students and learn more about each research project. In addition, we were able to recognize student efforts with a Havasi Wilderness Foundation Scientific Study Participant medal. We hope to continue our work with Cal-State Channel Islands and the Santa Rosa research station and support the next generation of environmental leaders.

Sage Conference at CSUCI.

Sage Conference at CSUCI.

In May,  we welcomed Lola West as our current Media Specialist. She creates the blogs that you read on a regular basis and updates our social media. Thanks to Lola for a job well done. Your enthusiasm and love of nature shows in your posts and we appreciate your work with us to help bring awareness and education to our audience of nature lovers.

Lola West, our new Media Specialist.

Lola West, our new Media Specialist.

In late May, we were invited to visit with the students at the Reményik Sándor Hungarian School in Reseda, California that features an educational program that we annually sponsor. The students performed Hungarian dances, sang songs, and presented us with an album about their educational activities for the semester. The students expressed their gratitude for our financial help of the program and we look forward to offering continued support.

In the summer, we visited the Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita, California and met Gabriella Skollar, the director. Our media specialist accompanied us and followed up with a very nice blog about gibbons.

For the past 7 years, we have sponsored an educational program at the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. This program has continued to grow and we met in June and in September to visit with the outgoing director of the program, Stephen Vodantis and the incoming interim replacements, first Danielle Alvarez and currently Kelly Kazmirchuk. Elementary schools who wish their students to learn more about the Malibu Lagoon, Topanga State Park, and the Sepulveda Basin wildlife connect with our program so that specially trained instructors can share and teach the various aspects of wildlife and plants at each location.

Our blogs have touched on subjects about dinosaurs, whales, and even outer space adventures and we want to thank Lola West for bringing our year to a close sharing some of her latest voyage experiences and writing such wonderful stories.

At the conclusion of 2017, we wish all of our supporters and visitors a Merry Christmas, Happy Kawanza, Happy Hanukkah, and as they say in Hungarian–Kellemes Karácsonyi ünnepeket kivánunk!

Sandor “Alex” Havasi and Marilyn Fordney



Membership Event at Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve

For the 5th year, our foundation supports Tippi Hedren’s The Roar Foundation. We decided to attend the annual membership event held at Lake Shambala.

One of the big cats on the Preserve

One of the big cats on the Preserve. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

The Shambala Preserve is located in Acton, California. This year a devastating and dangerous fire encroached on part of the preserve. As we drove along the winding road, we could see that the fire reached the land and surrounding areas of Lake Shambala. Of course, due to drought conditions, there is very little water in the lake.

Many members were on hand and using color-coded stickers, we were divided into three groups. First, we were served a vegetarian boxed lunch with beverage of our choice. We sat with some interesting members and enjoyed getting to know them. Among them actor, Larry Laverty, who had worked on a large number of films and television shows (

The Shambala Preserve is such an incredible location.

The Shambala Preserve is such an incredible location. Photo credit: Sandor Havasi

There were many volunteers helping at the reception desk, raffle ticket displays, silent auction tables, Shambala gift shop, and membership booth.

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Out of Africa Wildlife Park, Camp Verde, Arizona

Did you know you could go on a safari in the United States? In fact we have recently done it: at Out of Africa located in Camp Verde, Arizona. It is incredibly similar to a true safari experience. You get to ride in an actual safari vehicle as you drive through double gates to see the free-roaming exotic wild animals, birds, and reptiles. It is as you would expect to see when going on safari in Africa. Most of the animals living on this preserve have been rescued but all have different stories, and they are all wild animals and not tame pets. My husband, Sandor Havasi, and I decided to get some photos of these animals to share our experience better. We have had the privilege of visiting and have seen this facility a few times before, and each time it is a new adventure. Scott Williams was our safari guide, who pointed out different animals at each stop and helped us to learn more about these incredible creatures including:

Such a treat to see Chalet the White Tiger

Such a treat to see Chalet the White Tiger.

“Chalet”–a Siberian white tiger,  “Kobo” Reticulated giraffe, “Diligence” Grant’s zebra, sable antelope, ostrich, “Sedona” – a ring-tailed lemur, “Jericho”- Southern white rhinoceros, “Enoch”-Black Leopard, Patagonian cavy, and “Chobi”-Gemsbok, “Wilbur”- prehensile-tailed porcupine, “Cypress”-Grizzly Bear, “Chipa” and “Chitabe” -spotted Hyenas, “Humphrey” – Dromedary Camel,  “Nairobi”- sable Antelope, “Kanab”- Gray Wolf,  “Tambua” – Gaboon Viper,  “Jag and Bently” – Marmoset Monkeys, and  “Fisher” – Spectacled Caiman.

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Out of Africa: Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation

In the upcoming month, we will be having the opportunity to visit a wildlife park known as “Out of Africa” located in Camp Verde, Arizona. This wildlife park is fun for all ages–it boasts a safari, animal shows and even opportunities to get up close and personal with various animal ambassadors! We are looking forward to the opportunity to check out some of these fabulous and awe-inspiring animals up close and in person. In light of this upcoming excursion, today’s blog is about wildlife preservation and animal rescues!


“Exotic animals” such as the lion, giraffe, and rhinoceros. . . even certain kinds of parrots have captured the hearts and imaginations of people for centuries. In ancient times, kings or ambassadors  would send “exotic animals” along with gifts of precious gems or other trade items to other kings or countries. These animals were then placed into menageries where the wealthy king or nobles would be able to visit.

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Thank You Dads of the Animal Kingdom


Imagine growing up inside your dad’s mouth!

Hope you all had a happy Father’s Day everyone! In honor of this past weekend being Father’s Day Weekend, we at Havasi Wilderness Foundation wanted to thank all fathers, step-fathers, god-fathers, grandfathers, and father-figures in our lives and in the lives of so many others. What do fathers do? Fathers and father-figures take time to invest in our lives and to teach us and prepare us for the world ahead of us. This is not just seen in the human race, many other animals have fathers that make a tremendous difference in the lives of their offspring.


Four Faithful Father’s of the Animal Kingdom:

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Pickpockets of the Savannah

Vervet Monkey

Vervet Monkey’s are more than meets the eye.

Not all animals in the animal kingdom are as sweet and cute as they look. Monkeys are especially intelligent and devious animals. Many scientists have observed different monkey species over the years and have found these fascinating “distant relatives” to be very complex and often comical.

If you ever get the opportunity to travel to Africa or on a safari you may encounter one of these mischievous species: the Vervet Monkeys. Vervet Monkeys are considered “Old World Monkeys” which mean they are native to Africa–but they have also been introduced to other areas like Florida and Cuba.

These monkeys love tourists!

These monkeys love tourists!

Like many monkeys these Vervets have been studied in depth by scientists to understand genetic and social behaviors in humans! And these animals do have very “human-like” characteristics and diseases such as hypertension, anxiety and social dependencies. . . as well as a complicated sense of “trade.” This particular trait has caused many people who encounter these monkeys to think they are pests. . .

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Families in the Wild


Incredible animal families

After moving this past weekend I was truly reminded of how much my own family and close friends have helped me to be able to grow and become the person I am today. And I am not the only one to have had the support of parents and a social or “family group.” People are social, and rely on each other to learn to grow and to be successful. But it is not just humans who are “social animals” but there are many incredible species who work together in family groups and communities. Some examples of these animals are: crows (seen in previous post), elephants, gorillas, dolphins, wolves, and many other animals stick together as families in order to survive and thrive.

There are definitely many animals that we overlook when thinking about “social skills.” Animals like the opossum for example, often get a bad reputation as being a pest or a nuisance. . . but they are an amazing marsupial and have their own ways of raising their young. If you’ve ever been out late at night and have seen an opossum mother with her little babies on her back, you’ve seen some of this parental care in action! Those baby opossums are not just getting a joy ride but they are observing and learning from their mother as she shows them how to find food, avoid predators and be an opossum. Continue Reading →

Cheers to a Healthy New Year

Children group in Topanga State Park.

We at Havasi Wilderness Foundation wish you a very 2016! And in honor of the New Year and the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions we wanted to give you some encouragement from the animal kingdom and tips on keeping your resolutions. Before I graduated from University I never really was interested in making resolutions, because for me the school year was more of a new start than January. But now I find myself like many others trying to figure out how I want this 2016 year to look: healthier, happier, braver, more time outside and in nature. . . And much more! But one of the most common resolutions each year has to do with health. Especially after the holidays filled with sweets, feasts, and celebrations, for many it’s time to get serious and get ready for summer! One cool thing about us is that we can learn a lot about how to keep some of those New Year’s Resolutions we can learn from some awesome zoo keepers and vets. Continue Reading →

Big Cats



As a kid, the cheetah was my favorite animal because of how fast it was. Since I was pretty fast myself, I admired the cheetah for being the fastest land mammal in the world. I started to read more about the cheetah and learned that not only can it reach speeds of 70 miles per hour, but that it has many unique features that distinguish it from other big cats. In fact, although big cats might appear similar, they each have special attributes that allow them to thrive in their environment and remain high on the food chain.

Cheetahs are smaller than other big cats, but are built for speed. They have slim bodies and long, muscular legs that contribute to their speed in the wild. Their long tails help them stay balanced, and the special padding on the bottom of their paws to gives them better traction on the ground. One of the biggest distinguishing characteristics are the black “tear stripes” that run from the inside corner of their eyes, down the side of their mouths. This “tear stripe” helps keep sunlight out of their eyes and allowing them to see long distances that aids them while hunting for prey. Because of their speed, cheetahs love to hunt during the day. Like the other big cats they are carnivores, and love to prey on gazelles, wildebeest calves and smaller hoofed animals. Another unique characteristic cheetahs have from other big cats is that they can’t roar. They purr.

Of all the big cats, cheetahs are also the most delicate and have a hard time adapting to new environments. Cheetahs have never existed in large numbers. In the early 1900’s there were over 100,000 cheetahs that roamed their habitats throughout the world. They used to live all throughout Africa, parts of the Middle East, India, and the plains of southern Asia. Today only an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 exist in sub-Saharan Africa. Their extinction in many areas is largely due to habitat destruction, and a loss of species to prey upon. Cheetahs also have a high cub mortality rate and in some areas 50 to 75 percent of their young die before 3 months.



Another “big cat” is the leopard. This big cat is the most widespread of all the big cats, meaning it can be found in more areas around the world. Like the cheetah, it has a spotted fur pattern, but a leopard’s pattern is more complex. Although they can sometimes be confused with one another, they are actually very distinguishable. A cheetah’s spots are oval and solid black, while a leopard has a central brown spot with black spots around it, called rosettes. This pattern helps the leopard stay camouflaged and the spots simulate the different shifting of shadows while in the wild. These patterns are also unique to each leopard and like fingerprints: no two patterns are the same.

Leopards are solitary animals, meaning they live alone. They are also nocturnal, so unlike cheetahs that hunt during the day, leopards are active at night. Leopards have very strong legs and can leap over twenty feet away and 10 feet high. Because of their strength and jumping ability, when they catch prey, they take it with them into the trees to keep it away from other opportunistic animals looking to steal their food.



Lions are the most popular big cats. As kings of their domain, sitting on top of their food chain, they let their ferocity be known with the ability to roar loud enough to be heard 5 miles away. Lions range in size from 5 to 8 feet in length, and weigh 300 to 500 pounds. They are much larger than leopards that are 4 to 6 feet long, weighing 100 – 200 pounds, and cheetahs, that are 3 1/2 to 5 feet in length, weighing 100 – 150 pounds. Although lions are considered to be kings of the jungle, tigers are actually much larger and can weigh up to 850 pounds, reaching an amazing 11 feet in length, which has led some to question who the actual king would be if they ever crossed paths, but there aren’t many opportunities for lions and tigers to cross paths since lions are mainly in Africa and tigers live in Asia.

Female Lion

Female Lion

Probably the most well known characteristic of a lion is its mane. The mane is only found on male lions, and is said to help protect them while fighting. But did you know that the female lions actually do most of the hunting? Male lions hunt on occasion and will help out when hunting a big animal like a buffalo, but for the most part, it is the females that do a large part of the hunting for the group. Lions are the only social felines of the big cats and live and hunt together in groups of about 15 lions, called prides.

Big cats are amazing and beautiful creatures. It is unfortunate that their populations have decreased over the years, and can only really be seen in places like Africa or Asia. Of course you can always go to a zoo, but that’s not the same. If you ever get a chance to visit one of those places I suggest you take a tour and see then in their natural habitat.