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War on Africa's Elephants Exposed in Documentary

Hunting is pushing African elephants toward rapid extinction. A new HBO documentary explains why. Continue reading →

In a room adorned with evidence of his hunting success, John Jackson says he feels no remorse about any of the elephants he has killed for sport in Africa.

Watch "Racing Extinction" on Discovery Channel, Dec. 2, at 9 PM ET/PT.

"Most elephants I have ended up shooting were in self-defense," he insists, though he'd never have to defend himself against charging elephants if he hadn't paid up to $60,000 for a permit that allowed him to fly to Africa, stalk and kill them.

"They're bullies," he says of the world's largest land animal, and one of its most intelligent. "They murder for a living."

More than 100,000 Elephants Killed in 3 Years

Isn't he concerned that African elephant numbers are in precipitous decline?

No, he says. "If anything, the greatest threat to African elephants is over-protection."

Leon Lamprecht disagrees. "We are in a war," to save the species, says Lamprecht, who oversees Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He, Jackson and others are featured in a chilling documentary, Blood Ivory, which airs on Tuesday night in the United States on HBO, as part of the monthly series Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

It makes for frequently uncomfortable, if compelling, viewing. Correspondent David Scott embedded with Lamprecht and his anti-poaching patrol in Garamba. He spent time at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant sanctuary in Kenya, where orphaned elephants -- "confused, traumatized and stressed" after their mothers have been killed and their tusks hacked off -- are "showered with attention and care."

Do Elephants (and Other Animals) Cry?

And he examines how the black market trade in elephant ivory -- one large tusk can fetch $80,000 -- is creating a situation where, Lamprecht tells Scott, "If we're not successful, there will be no elephants remaining in Africa. You and me will be among the fortunate few who have seen a live elephant."

Poachers have illegally killed 100,000 elephants in just the last few years; Sixty percent of the elephants in Tanzania have been killed by poachers in the same time frame. In some cases, the poaching is done by rebel forces such as, in Congo, Joseph Kony's infamous Lord's Resistance Army; many of the poaching units are hugely efficient, swooping in by helicopter, slaughtering a couple of dozen elephants, hacking out their tusks, and loading their booty on to the chopper and taking off.

Sport hunters such as Jackson and others argue that it's such illegal poaching, rather than legal sport hunting, that's responsible for the significantly greater amount of elephant carnage and that would be true; however, as Dan Ash of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service argues, so great are the pressures on Africa's elephants right now that "we have to say stop, and let the species rebound."

10 Ways Elephants Are Like Us

Consequently, the United States has moved to ban all commercial trade in ivory (the United States is the second-biggest market, after China) and to suspend the import of sports trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania. It is a move that it is opposed by sports hunters in the United States, and the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International have filed suit to halt the measure.

Sport hunters argue that the licenses they pay go toward environmental measures that are ultimately beneficial for elephants and other species -- a view that's not without some support. However, while such a view is controversial on its broader merits alone, it is all the more so in certain areas. The Fish and Wildlife Service announcement notes "questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement, and weak governance" in Tanzania -- which a former safari club owner, speaking to Real Sports, defines as widespread corruption and bribery.

As for Zimbabwe? The HBO investigation suggests that much of the revenue from sports hunting is siphoned directly to the despotic regime of Robert Mugabe, who has said that, "Elephants take up lots of space and drink lots of water, so they have to pay for their room and board." Mugabe recently celebrated his 91st birthday party with a lavish affair; on the menu was one of his favorite delicacies.

Baby elephant.

‘Blood Ivory' airs on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel at 10PM ET/PT on Tuesday Nov. 24. details of additional airings are here.

Lonesome George - the Last Pinta Island Tortoise

June 25, 2012 -

Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise and celebrated symbol of conservation efforts has died. George passed away in the Galapagos Islands with no known offspring after several attempts at breeding George with other similar tortoise species, according to AFP. Lonesome George's longtime caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found the giant tortoise's remains stretched out in the "direction of his watering hole" on Santa Cruz Island, according to AFP. Estimated to be more than 100 years old, the creature's cause of death remains unclear and a necropsy is planned. Lonesome George was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972 at a time when giant tortoises of his type, Geochelone nigra abingdoni, were already believed to be extinct, according to AFP. The following is a look at other at risk animals in the world.

NEWS: Extinct' Giant Tortoise Found on Remote Island

Animals at Risk Since the Endangered Species Act's passage 33 years ago, 1,800 species have been listed as endangered and nine have become extinct. ARKive, a collection of the world's best wildlife films and photographs, gathered together a list of the most at risk animals. The Tiger has undergone large population declines across Cambodia and the rest of Asia, according to ARKive.

Blue Whale (Endangered) Once hunted nearly to extinction, the blue whale is the largest animal to have ever lived, growing to around 27 meters (88.5 feet) long and weighing up to an astounding 120 tons. It also produces the loudest call of any animal on Earth. Although hunting of the blue whale was banned in 1966, the recovery of this magnificent marine mammal has been exceptionally slow.

Giant Panda (Endangered) The giant panda is universally admired for its appealing markings and seemingly gentle demeanor. A charismatic conservation icon, the giant panda is threatened by habitat loss, with large areas of China’s natural forest being cleared for agriculture, timber and firewood to meet the needs of the large and growing human population.

Tiger (Endangered) The tiger is one of the most emblematic symbols of conservation today, and its distinctively patterned coat and fearsome reputation make this species instantly recognizable. However, the tiger is facing the grave threat of extinction due to illegal poaching and habitat loss.

Sumatran Orangutan (Critically endangered) The name of the Sumatran orangutan means "person of the forest." The biggest threat to the Sumatran orangutan is the loss of its forest habitat, with around 80 percent of the forest on Sumatra vanishing in recent years due to illegal logging, gold mining and conversion to permanent agriculture, in particular, palm oil plantations.

Black Rhinoceros (Critically endangered) Contrary to its name, the black rhinoceros is actually grey in color. It was hunted almost to the brink of extinction for its impressive horn, which can grow up to 60 cm (23.6 inches), largely due to the demand for horn in Chinese traditional medicine and for traditional dagger handles in Yemen.

Philippine Eagle (Critically endangered) The striking Philippine eagle is the world's largest eagle and also one of the world’s most threatened raptors. The destruction of its habitat is the main cause of its dramatic decline, with vast tracts of tropical forests in the Philippines having been cleared for commercial development and for shifting cultivation.

Kakapo (Critically endangered) As the world’s only flightless parrot, the kakapo is a truly unique bird which is threatened by introduced species in its native home of New Zealand. Conservationists have taken the drastic measure of removing all surviving kakapo to predator-free islands, so far averting the extinction of this remarkable bird.

Hawksbill Turtle (Critically endangered) The hawksbill turtle possesses a beautiful marbled shell, which has been exploited for thousands of years as the sole source of commercial tortoiseshell. Illegal demand for its shell, and for its eggs, meat and even stuffed juveniles as exotic gifts, have led to the dramatic decline of this species over the last century. A further threat to the hawksbill turtle is global climate change.

Lemur Leaf Frog (Critically endangered) The lemur leaf frog is specially adapted for a life in the trees with adhesive pads on its toes. Eggs are laid on leaf surfaces and when hatched the larvae are washed off or fall into water below. This nocturnal tree frog was once considered to be a reasonably common species in Costa Rica, but it is threatened by the loss of its forest habitat and most populations in Costa Rica have recently disappeared.

Scalloped Hammerhead (Endangered) Forming impressively large schools, female scalloped hammerheads gather in the Gulf of California during the day, around underwater mountains known as seamounts, where they perform a wide range of behaviors yet to be understood. The scalloped hammerhead is under threat due to fishing pressures and in particular is a victim of shark finning. ANIMAL PLANET: Endangered Species Guide