It is too late for Vietnam’s last rhino, but not too late for other rhinos in the world. Vietnam must share the responsibility of protecting rhinos by enforcing the law and dispelling mythical beliefs.
Since the late 1990s, rapid economic growth and a rising standard of living in Vietnam have increased demand for traditional forms of medicine made from wildlife. Tiger bone, bear bile, pangolin scales, and rhino horns are now available to a new group of consumers that a mere 15 years ago were unable to afford such expensive products.
The myth of magical properties associated with many of these critically endangered species drives demand, which is perpetuated by the substantial profits earned by criminal networks that ensure a steady supply of products to consumers.
The rhino horn trade is unique in that the killing is occurring many thousands of miles away in South Africa, where Vietnamese nationals have been connected to both illegal hunting and the smuggling of rhino horns destined for markets back in Vietnam. A tragic 1,215 rhinos have been killed in 2014 and 1,175 rhinos have been killed in 2015 in South Africa. Source: https://www.environment.gov.za/mediarelease/molewa_waragainstpoaching2015
The main markets for rhino horn are in Vietnam and China, where it is used as a form of traditional medicine. In Vietnam, rhino horn is believed to help reduce toxins in the body, reduce body heat, treat fever, improve one’s general health and prevent disease (ENV investigation, 2011-2012). Rhino horn is also rumored to help treat cancer or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Use of rhino horn has also become somewhat of a status symbol, whereby members of the emerging wealthy class flaunt their success by using expensive ‘medicines’.
Rhino horn is made from a form of keratin, similar to buffalo horn and fingernails. There is no scientific evidence that rhino horn can cure cancer or treat other illnesses as claimed by many consumers. However, traditional beliefs, rumors, and desperation in the case of the ill, drive the slaughter of rhinos worldwide.
Until early 2010, Vietnam took pride in the fact that the only surviving wild rhinos remaining in Indochina were in Cat Tien National Park in the south of Vietnam. However, despite substantial investments in the protection of the park, the last surviving rhino was shot and killed by hunters in early 2010. Its horn was cut from its skull, and its body was left to rot in the forest.
This sad end for one of the many critically endangered species in Vietnam will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to agencies involved in species protection.
In Vietnam, the Javan rhino now survives only on a postage stamp
The rhino horn trade has claimed its first extinction of a rhino subspecies, never again to walk the face of the earth; lost so that a handful of consumers could ‘treat’ an illness for which less expensive, real medicines are available.
Putting a stop to the killing of rhinos for their horns requires a two-pronged approach. Aggressively and appropriately harsh measures need to be aimed at the criminal networks that smuggle rhino horns from Africa to supply consumer demand in Vietnam, in conjunction with sustained campaigns targeting Vietnamese consumers to dispel myths and rumors about the magical properties of rhino horn.
It is too late for Vietnam’s last rhino, but not too late for other rhinos in the world. Vietnam must share the responsibility of protecting rhinos by enforcing the law and dispelling the mythological belief in the value of rhino horn.
As part of an ongoing initiative aimed at raising awareness amongst government employees, ENV has partnered with a number of central ministries to place informational banners in the main lobbies and entrances of buildings.
Over the course of 2013 and 2014, four public service announcements (PSAs) will have been produced and aired nationally on dozens of channels on TV and ENV’s YouTube channel. Whilst some films are emotional and shocking, some are comedic, poking fun at the consumption of rhino horn. Using several different approaches, ENV hopes to appeal to a wide range of consumers and potential consumers.
One PSA released by ENV features famous comedian Chi Trung playing the part of a rich and successful businessman
As part of a developing campaign to reach rhino horn consumers and would-be consumers, ENV has formed partnerships with luxury car dealers including Mercedes – Benz, BMW, and MG, expensive fitness centers and luxury shopping malls in order to display awareness-raising materials and hold interactive events.
ENV materials at car showrooms for Mercedes and premium gym NShape
One rhino exhibit recently held at a luxury shopping mall center in Hanoi
Other activities include
- Profiling of consumers to clearly identify values associated with the use of rhino horn.
- Encouraging public reporting of crimes involving rhino horn.
- Actively cooperating with law enforcement agencies in Vietnam and South Africa to combat rhino horn smuggling.
- A wide range of supplementary awareness activities targeting businessmen and the general public, including Voice of Vietnam radio programs, a Facebook campaign, viral advertisements, letters to influential CEOs, postcards to influential politicians and public figures, and corporate partnerships with traditional medicine shops and drugstores.
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