07/06/2010 01:22 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Elle, Elle, What the Hell?

Elle Macpherson has confessed to a reporter for the Times online, that she uses an illegal substance. No, it's not heroin or crack cocaine: It's rhino horn.

Like shark's fin, which is hacked off the shark, who is then thrown back into the water to spin helplessly to the bottom of the sea, rhino horn is hacked off, too, and the rhino is left to die with a machete hole in the face. It is not a quick death, as photographs and video footage attest.

Rhinos are interesting animals, not that it would matter if they were boring as hell. It isn't too long ago that human beings discovered what this species knew all along: that its members communicate by means of complex breathing noises. In my book The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights, I recount how Anna Mertz, the founder of a rhino sanctuary in Kenya, came to realize that these animals live in a completely different sphere from ours. They are the Mr. Magoos of the animal kingdom, barely able to see a thing, which unfortunately makes it convenient to poach them, and their world is dominated by their senses of smell and hearing.

To communicate, rhinos use a highly complicated method of regulating their breathing, a sort of Morse code, to talk to one another. Mertz says that rhinos are absolutely terrified of humans because people chase them, separate them from their calves, and slaughter them for their horns, which are cut off for use as aphrodisiacs and in cosmetics.

Mertz raised and released an orphaned bull she named Makara who had never witnessed an attack by hunters and had never learned to fear people. Over time, he came to regard Mertz as a friend.

On one occasion, Mertz was out with a tracker when the two of them saw a rhino moving very slowly toward them, looking very odd. When he got close, they saw that it was Makara and that he was completely entangled in barbed wire. Barbed wire is terrifying to animals, and most panic when they encounter it, but Makara had recognized the sound of his friend's Jeep engine and come for help. Although trembling all over, he gave the pair the greeting breathing. Mertz managed to get a handkerchief between Makara's eye and the jagged wire that was cutting into it, then took off her jacket and worked it under the wire that was cutting into his thigh. Without wire cutters, the tracker used a cutlass and a flat stone to cut the wire while Mertz, talking gently to the bull, disentangled him. The whole affair took about 40 minutes, and the whole time Makara stood stock-still except for the tremors that shook his body.

When the last of the wire fell away, he breathed goodbye and moved slowly back into the bush. Mertz says she knew that they had witnessed an act of outstanding intelligence, trust, and courage. That this bull had come to them for help and had exercised such control over his state of panic, standing still and allowing himself to be freed of the frightening barbed wire, must have been very difficult and painful to him―even more so, given the fact that although Makara knew Mertz's voice well, she had never before attempted to touch him.

I wrote in the book that perhaps if we could sit rhino hunters down and let them see that a rhino is not an inconsequential gray lump, not a trophy or a heap of body parts, but a living, thinking, feeling being―a son, a mother, a friend to others, a vulnerable individual―perhaps they would not blow these magnificent animals to kingdom come or cut off their horns via machete. Perhaps Elle Macpherson might also sit down and look at the photos of the rhinos who are ground up for human vanity and complete quackery.

Another star, Jackie Chan, who works hard to combat the devastation to wildlife caused by Chinese medicine, from tiger penises to bear bile and claws, is appalled by what is done to wildlife in the name of Chinese medicine. He says, if you know anyone who is buying the stuff, "Ask them to think first. Do they really want to be responsible for the cruel killing of an individual animal and to contribute to the extinction of the species? Don't they know that there are herbal alternatives to endangered animals in traditional Chinese medicine? And do they really need that endangered species product? There is no excuse."

I will take his advice this morning and jot a letter to Elle. If you'd like to stick up for rhinos and all wildlife caught up in this illicit trade, please join me.