The Current Demand for Rhino Horn: Two Important Points:




Recent research conducted by TRAFFIC, (the international wildlife trade monitoring network) has been neatly summarised in a useful reference workbook for tour guides, teachers and the general public, produced in Australia by Dr Lynn Johnson for the Breaking the Brand project.  This is aimed at getting to the bottom of the illegal trade in rhino horn and correcting some of the mis-perceptions that are clouding our decisions as to how to combat it.   Here are some extracts from it:-

"Demand for rhino horn began to increase rapidly from 2008.   Outlined in this workbook is the background to what is driving the current rhino poaching crisis. We hope that this gives you the information to help inform tourists and your community about where the majority of the demand is coming from.  Only through knowing the real and full picture can we engage people to challenge the current users to stop buying rhino horn. As long as old myths persist, we will struggle to get the necessary behaviour change to secure the survival of rhinos in the wild.

So who are the current users of rhino horn and where do they come from?

Historically, China has been a key market for rhino horn. But research by organisations such as TRAFFIC show that the main customers for rhino horn, driving the current poaching crisis, live in Vietnam.

Both China and Vietnam have experienced strong economic growth in the last 2 decades and the number of wealthy people is continuously increasing.

  • China experienced continuous and rapid economic growth since around 1993
  • Vietnam experienced continuous economic growth, which has accelerated since 2003.

Undoubtedly, some of the rhinos killed in Africa and Asia will go to the Chinese medicine trade and efforts need to continue to bring this to an end. However, this is likely to be a small percentage of the rhinos being poached.  We need to consider that even though wealth in China started to grow steeply from 1993, there was no evidence that this affected the rhino poaching numbers, at least in South Africa, for 15 years.

So this indicates that the recent spike in demand for rhino horn is not strongly associated with use in traditional Chinese medicine. Often people feel that they can’t challenge something so old and entrenched as medicinal practices going back many hundreds of years. So it is useful to know that what is driving the current demand is a new fashion in a young population -  70% of people in Vietnam are under the age of 35 years.   From a brand breaking and demand reduction perspective it is much better that the spike in rhino horn demand is a new trend/fad – this makes it easier to stop. This is the case for users in Vietnam.

Current measures to save the rhino are underway throughout the protection – supply - demand chain.   We would recommend additional focus on changing the purchasing behaviour of the primary users of rhino horn to reduce demand and save rhinos from extinction in the wild.

Given this, it is important to know the primary users driving the current poaching levels:

  1. They live in Vietnam, mainly in the wealthy suburbs of Hanoi and Ho Chi Min City
  2. They are businessmen and affluent mothers (probably the wives of the businessmen)   (Wealthy businessmen give rhino horn as a gift to negotiate business deals or to gain favours, or they grind it into water to use as detox drink at the end of a night of socialising with peers.  It is a status symbol, they know that there is no health benefit.   Affluent mothers give it to children as a health supplement /medication and also buy it for aging /sick parents.)
  3. The value of rhino horn is mainly symbolic and a new fashion; it is not entrenched in ancient culture.
  4. 70% of the Vietnamese population is under the age of 35 years
  5. There are only about 20,000 users of genuine rhino: a. 5,000 – 10,000 businessmen (who use the largest amount) and b. Their wives who are likely to be buying a mixture of genuine and fake rhino horn for their children and aging parents
  6. 90% of all rhino horn sold in Vietnam is fake, e.g. buffalo horn from China. Not being able to distinguish real rhino horn from fake is likely to be helping the rhino’s survival
  7. The users only have 2 motivations to stop: a. Negative impact on their personal status  b. Negative impact on their personal health and health of family and associates

The users have no or very little empathy with the animal. Campaigns in the form of an appeal to ‘protect a species’ will, in the main, be ignored by the users of rhino horn.

Importantly, there is no pressure on the users in Vietnam to stop buying rhino horn if China is constantly put forward as the driver of rhino poaching. This allows the Vietnamese users of rhino horn to ‘fly under the radar’. As a result they receive minimal pressure to change their buying habits.

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NewsZAMSOC Reporter