The rhino horn trade in Vietnam
The rise of consumer demand
Rapid economic growth and a rising standard of living since the late 1990s in Vietnam have increased demand for traditional forms of medicine made from wildlife. Tiger bone, bear bile, pangolin scales, and rhino horns are available now to consumers that a mere 15 years ago, would have been unable to afford such expensive products.
The myth of magical properties associated with many of these critically endangered species drives demand. This 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 kilometers away in South Africa, where Vietnamese nationals have been connected to both illegal hunting and smuggling of rhino horns destined for markets back in Vietnam.
In 2012, 668 rhinos were killed illegally in South Africa alone, and so far in 2013 up to the 1st of March, 128 rhinos have been killed. 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 and treat fever, and to improve one’s general health or 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’.
One might as well seek relief chewing on fingernails!
Rhino horn is made from a form of keratin, similar to 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.
Too little too late for Vietnam’s last rhino
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, hopefully served as a wake-up call to agencies involved in species protection. Conservation organizations have squandered millions in habitat and species protection, yet have rarely been held accountable for their failures, while local authorities that were entrusted with the responsibility of protecting rhinos and other endangered species clearly failed, resulting in this tragic loss.
The rhino horn trade has claimed its first extinction of a rhino subspecies, never again to walk the face of the earth, and lost for a handful of consumers to ‘treat’ an illness for which less expensive, real medicines are available.
The road forward
Putting a stop to the killing of rhinos for their horns requires a two-pronged approach. Aggressive and appropriately harsh measures need to be aimed at the criminal \ networks that smuggle rhino horns in from Africa and supply consumer demand in Vietnam, in conjunction with sustained campaigns targeting Vietnamese consumers to dispel both myth and rumors about the magical properties of rhino horn.
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Here is what you can do to help:
• Don’t consume medicines made from endangered wildlife
• Report wildlife crimes to appropriate authorities or ENV’s Wildlife Crime Hotline 1-800-1522
• DONATE and help support our efforts.
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