By 2012, poaching and the illegal ivory trade was the biggest threat to the African elephants’ survival. Before the Europeans began colonizing Africa, there may have been as many as 26 million elephants. As few as 400,000 remained as of 2012. African rhinoceros’ species were in even more jeopardy. There were estimated to be less than 21,000 southern white rhino and 5,000 black rhinos’ remaining in the wild in Africa. The northern white rhino subspecies had been reduced to just three living animals in a reserve in East Africa, and one each in zoos in San Diego and the Czech Republic.
Dr. John Benson, a renowned Canadian forensic wildlife biologist, RCMP Inspector, and senior strategist with INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Unit, together with Dr. Kate Beckett, long term colleague, romantic partner, forensic wildlife biologist, and a senior Special Agent with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, were jointly invited by INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Working Group to work together as advisors and trainers on a new initiative named Project Wisdom targeting illegal trafficking in elephant ivory and rhino horn in Africa, and expanded world-wide with Operation Cobra. Operation Cobra chronicles the adventures of John Benson, Kate Beckett, and their team over a four-year period from 2012 to 2016 in East Africa and North America helping local wildlife and law enforcement agencies take down wildlife poachers and break up international wildlife trafficking syndicates, sometimes risking their lives and the lives of their trusted team members, Dennis Bear and Anna Dupree, and their two German shepherd police dogs Sydney and Nelle.