The reasons why the Vietnamese are big consumers of rhino horn

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Rhino horn

The Vietnamese are one of the world’s largest consumers of rhino horn. Their desire for it contributes hugely to the killing of rhinos in the wild in Africa. Vu Hoai Nam Dang, PhD Fellow, University of Copenhagen and Martin Reinhardt Nielsen, Associate Prof University of Copenhagen provide all of us with some great insights into why the Vietnamese have such an entrenched attitude towards rhino horn to the great detriment and even to the survival of the rhino in Africa. They interviewed 30 people, recent users of rhino horn and one trader. They came from the upper income bracket of citizens of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

Seized smuggled rhino horn are displayed at a customs office in Hanoi on March 14, 2017. Vietnam police seized more than 100 kilograms of rhino horn smuggled into the country in suitcases from Kenya on March 14, the latest illegal haul in the wildlife trafficking hub. Source: STR / AFP

Healing Properties

Vietnamese believe that rhino horn has magical healing properties. This is a deep-rooted belief in Vietnam. Rhino horn is used to treat hangovers, believe it or not. This a major use of rhino horn as a medicine. It’s also used to treat other ailments such as fever, gout and terminal cancer. It is also used to treat strokes.

Sometimes people give rhino horn to terminally ill relatives in order to console them and to show them that they are doing all they can to help them.

Status Symbol

Rhino horn is a status symbol in Vietnam. They share it with other people within social and professional networks. It is a way of showing off wealth and it strengthens business relationships. Rhino horn is used as a gift in the hope and expectation that the flavour is reciprocated perhaps in the furtherance of business interests.

Stigma?

The Vietnamese do not have a stigma about using rhino horn. They believe that the killing of rhinos is a distant and remote issue to which they are unconnected. It doesn’t affect them that what they’re doing may lead to the extinction of the rhino in the wild on the African continent. They don’t seem to see the connection. It must be ignorance or they are deluded.

In addition, Vietnamese law forbids buying it and I presume dealing with it. They are unconcerned because enforcement of the law in this respect is poor. Traders don’t bother about the criminal law because the benefits far outweigh the potential detriments of a conviction and subsequent punishment.

Wild Rhino Horn

Consumers much prefer wild rhino horn over the farmed variety. This attitude works against trying to control the consumption of rhino horn through rhino farms and legalising it. If you legalise it and create farm animals you would increase the desire for rhino horn which in turn would increase the desire for wild rhino horn.

Solution?

Campaigns to stop the consumption rhino horn in Vietnam have failed. The Vietnamese will not be convinced by arguments that what they’re doing is killing off the rhino. Their attitudes are so deep-rooted. The only solution, as I see it, is to step up to a much higher level education; to chip away at their deeply entrenched attitudes through education. In parallel law enforcement must be stepped up tremendously so that traders are heavily punished and consumers likewise. Law without enforcement is a waste of time and worse. It reinforces criminal behaviour.

Governments

At the end of the day the Vietnamese government is failing the rhino in Africa. The same can be said about any Asian government with respect to the wild species which are poached on the African continent. I am referring to, for example, the Bengal tiger in India and the lion in Africa. I also refer to the elephant for their ivory which so fascinates the Chinese. The Chinese also believe that body parts of the Bengal tiger make good medicine and nothing will change their minds on this so once again it’s about heavy law enforcement and the much stronger attitude from the Chinese government to stamp it out because we are heading for the extinction of these iconic species but the Vietnamese and the Chinese don’t care. They just don’t care.