Victims of Poaching: Background information when reading The Last Unicorn

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The Last Unicorn

A Search for One of Earth's Rarest Creatures

by William deBuys

The Last Unicorn by William deBuys X
The Last Unicorn by William deBuys
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 368 pages
    Oct 2015, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick
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About this Book

Victims of Poaching

This article relates to The Last Unicorn

Print Review

Travel literature has contributed immeasurably to many people's understanding of foreign lands and cultures they might not otherwise visit – or even become aware of. One of the many contributions of travel writers – such as William deBuys, author of The Last Unicorn – has been to raise awareness of the global epidemic of poaching, the removal of fauna and flora (almost always protected by regional and international laws), a scourge that, in addition to habitat loss and environmental pollution, threatens many species of plant and animal with extinction. The mountainous terrain that deBuys navigates is frequently cris-crossed by the snare lines of armed poachers.

As developed nations and international agencies continue to strengthen and enforce laws against the cavalier raping of forests, wetlands, jungles, and savannas many poachers (who range from lone "rogue" profiteers to terrorist organizations) have redoubled their efforts to pluck from nature whatever profit they can extract, no matter the cost to life or limb.

The following are just a few that have become favorite targets for the scurrilous practice of trafficking in environmental treasures:

  • Rhinos
    The African black rhino Primarily targeted for their horns (which have no demonstrated medicinal value, despite persistent folk legends), which are sold and ground into a powder used in traditional Asian medicine, rhinoceros poaching has reached dangerous levels, especially in South Africa, where a majority of Africa's surviving rhinos live. Two of the three Asian species, the Javan and the Sumatran, are critically endangered, as is the African black rhino. International trade in rhino horn has been banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) since 1977.

  • Elephants
    A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims that the elephant population in Africa has declined 64% in the last decade. Hunted primarily for the ivory of their majestic tusks, the widespread slaughter of elephants led to an international ban on the ivory trade in the late 1980s. But CITES modified that ban partially in 2008, allowing exports of African ivory from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to Japan and China. Conservationists claim that action has led to a renewed deadly assault on these mammoth creatures.

  • Rosewood
    A rosewood treeDemand for many species of this slow-growing hardwood, some of which can grow to 30 meters in height, has lead to over-logging and violated forest laws in many countries including Cambodia. The tree's extremely slow growth makes it difficult to replace after it's been harvested, and decimation also decreases soil fertility.

  • Sea Turtles
    Despite being banned by many countries, poaching along coastal areas of several continents continues to threaten sea turtles. They are killed for their shells (which are used to make jewelry), skin (leather handbags) and blood (an elixir in traditional Chinese medicine). According to the rescue group Sea Turtle Inc., "Many countries have outlawed sea turtle hunting, but unfortunately the laws are not enforced and communities still continue to poach these animals."

Picture of African black rhino by lkiwaner
Picture of rosewood tree from

Article by James Broderick

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Last Unicorn. It originally ran in April 2015 and has been updated for the March 2015 edition.

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