VIETNAM is one of the world’s largest consumers of rhino horn, contributing to the continued poaching of rhinos in the wild. Last year in Africa 1,100 rhinos were killed by poachers. And today there are only about 29,500 left in the world.
Considerable efforts have been devoted to reducing the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam. In 2015, the Government of Vietnam increased sanctions on the illegal trade and use of rhino horns. And, through a variety of campaigns, conservation organisations have tried to educate Vietnamese consumers about Africa’s rhino poaching crisis and the uselessness of rhino horn in medications.
We conducted a study to shed light on why people use rhino horn. To do this we interviewed consumers who admitted to using rhino horn in Vietnam.
We found that people used rhino horn for a number of purposes, principally as a medicine and as a status symbol. The most prevalent use was for treating hangovers. Other uses included using it to honour terminally ill relatives.
We also found that consumers preferred wild rhino horn over farmed rhino horn. And that they weren’t affected by stigma or concerns about rhino populations.
Our findings suggest that the demand for rhino horn is unlikely to fall because people’s beliefs are firmly entrenched. Our hope is that our findings help reshape the focus of future conservation campaigns by targeting the prevalent reasons for its use and the values associated with it.
We interviewed 30, self-confessed, recent users of rhino horn and one rhino horn trader. They came from the upper income bracket of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
The people we interviewed said that they used rhino horn to treat various ailments including hangovers, fever, gout and potentially terminal illnesses, like cancer or stroke. Some people also gave it to terminally ill relatives to console them and show that they had done everything in their power to help them.
Our findings confirm that the idea that rhino horn has magical healing properties is deeply rooted in Vietnam.
Aside from being used as medicine, rhino horn is considered a status symbol. Consumers said that they shared it within social and professional networks to demonstrate their wealth and strengthen business relationships. Gifting whole rhino horns was also used as a way to get favours from those in power.