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Reflecting on World Rhino Day, 2015

Since its founding in 2010, World Rhino Day has been an international cri de coeur for a beloved animal under assault because of consumer demand for its horn. As of August 27, 749 Southern White Rhinos had been poached for their horns this year in South Africa, home to the vast majority of the world’s remaining rhinos. Compare this with the same date a year ago, when a total of 716 had been poached.

As WildAid CEO Peter Knights and WildAid South Africa campaign chief Adam Welz explain in a recent op-ed:   

Behind South Africa’s rhino-poaching epidemic lies a single, simple thing: the extremely high price some people will pay for rhino horn in Asia. The large amounts of cash handed over in shops and back alleys in Vietnam and China in exchange for small bags of rhino-horn powder, tiny trinkets, necklaces and bracelets — and sometimes whole horns — supports a transnational network of crime that excels at evading controls.

The money buys off Asian customs officials, police and airline staff. It pays for the transport costs of middlemen and mules, who risk arrest carrying horn into Asia from Africa. It covers losses when horn is occasionally confiscated en route. It enriches corrupt African politicians and crime bosses who provide weapons, vehicles and operating expenses for crews of poachers, bribes to court officials to make inconvenient evidence disappear and fees for good lawyers and hitmen. It provides an incentive more powerful than the fear of death to the squads of triggermen who regularly enter rhino reserves despite the presence of armed rangers, police and military units. 

WildAid is unique in that we focus on reducing the demand for wildlife products such as shark fin and elephant ivory. Partnering with Click to enlarge infographicinfluential celebrities and media partners with extensive reach, we’ve found that it’s possible to move the needle on public opinion when it comes to consumption of wildlife products.

For instance, shark fin soup, once a staple of official dinners and wedding banquets, is quickly becoming unfashionable in China, thanks in part to WildAid’s widely distributed ads and PSAs featuring former NBA star Yao Ming and other Chinese celebrities. Our research indicates a 50-70% decrease in shark fin soup consumption over the past few years.

We've also brought this demand reduction strategy to rhino horn, focusing efforts on countries such as Vietnam.

With a fast-growing economy and a population of 90 million people, Vietnam is a primary market for rhino horn, due in part to misinformed beliefs of horn's medicinal benefits, and even its alleged cancer-fighting properties, when consumed in powder form. It’s also used by some to demonstrate affluence and social status, both as a party drug and as a gift to important political officials.

The good news: Young wildlife advocates, health care professionals and others throughout Vietnam are speaking out against the illicit trade.

WildAid Vietnam is working with CHANGE and African Wildlife Foundation on this important work through the Stop Using Rhino Horn campaign. Here are a few of our recent campaign activities to educate consumers and raise awareness of the poaching crisis:

Engaging young activists

This past weekend, a large contingent of young Vietnamese activists staged a memorial service and funeral procession in Ho Chi Minh City to protest the rhino poaching epidemic.

Timed to global events honoring World Rhino Day, the protest memorialized a fictional mother and calf, symbols of the thousands of rhinos killed in recent years. Attendees placed white roses into two black coffins to pay respect to “Krugeratu” and “Krugerati,” named for South Africa’s Kruger National Park, where a majority of the poaching is taking place. 

The mock funeral is the latest in a series of outreach events in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City organized by WildAid and its partners.  

“This event sends a message to the international community that the people of Vietnam also love and care about protecting nature and wildlife,” said Hong Hoang, director of CHANGE and lead campaigner for WildAid Vietnam. 

Partnering with influential celebrities 

Last month, a who’s who of national celebrities and Vietnam Idol alumni appeared on VTV for “The Call of the Wild,” a two-hour special to raise awareness about the rhino horn trade's impact. (The show will premiere later this year on VTV.)  

Among the pop stars appearing on the show was Thanh Bùi (pictured below), who along with fellow singer Thu Minh traveled to Africa last year to speak out against poaching. “When I arrived in South Africa, being a Vietnamese, I was held for interviews for four hours at the airport,” he said. “I felt I was treated like a criminal. Later, when I learned about and witnessed with my own eyes the horrible massacre of the rhino in South Africa, I got to understand why. 

“However, I do not want the Vietnamese youths to have bad experiences,” Bùi continued. “Last month, 22 Vietnamese young people had a chance to visit South Africa … and they became excellent ambassadors, bringing messages of true love of nature to their families and community.”  

Pop singer Thanh Bui leads a chorus at "The Call of the Wild"

This past spring, Vietnamese-American actress Maggie Q made headlines throughout Vietnam on her first visit to the country to kick off the second year of Stop Using Rhino Horn. “I am proud to be here as my mother is from Vietnam,” she said in remarks at a Hanoi event alongside Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy Claire A. Pierangelo. “I would like to help make people aware of the devastating impacts of this trade and persuade them to stop buying rhino horn." 

WildAid ambassador Maggie Q and fiancé Dylan McDermott (second and third from left) at a Stop Using Rhino Horn event

Debunking medicinal myths 

WildAid and its partners regularly engage the medical community to debunk rhino horn’s purported cancer-curing benefits. Last month, nearly 30 doctors and caregivers, along with 180 cancer patients from the Vietnam National Cancer Hospital, came together in Hanoi for the “Understanding Cancer” workshop, one of several public events to educate cancer patients and their families.

“With all the technological advancements, there are many effective treatment options, providing opportunities to cure patients of cancer. Rhino horns have absolutely no ability to treat this disease,” said Prof. Nguyen Ba Duc – Deputy President of the Vietnam Oncology Association and Deputy President of the Bright Future Fund. 

Attendees at the "Understanding Cancer" workshop in Hanoi

You can check out more of WildAid’s media work to save rhinos here