ACTION ALERT: The Struggle to Save Rhinos in Africa and Vietnam
October 28, 2017
Jimmiel Mandima / African Wildlife Foundation & Harleen Sehmi / African Wildlife Foundation
Earlier this year, a court ruling overruled the Government of South Africa's trade moratorium and passed legislation allowing domestic rhino horn trade. With more than 80 percent of the world's rhino population living in South Africa, Africa's rhino populations are threatened by extinction. Meanwhile, a surge in demand for rhino horn in Vietnam has lead to a dramatic increase of slaughtered rhinos in South Africa. In 2007, just 13 rhinos were killed in South Africa while in 2014 this figure rose to 1,215.
A Potential Resurgence in Rhino Horn Demand Could Be Disastrous
African Wildlife Foundation
(October 26, 2017) -- Earlier this year, a court ruling overruled the Government of South Africa's trade moratorium and passed legislation allowing domestic rhino horn trade. In the months following the reversal, a South African rhino rancher held an online auction for 500kg of rhino horn.
The platform was available in Chinese and Vietnamese languages, which points to the intent to target this market. With more than 80 percent of the world's rhino population living in South Africa, and already unsustainable poaching rates driven by demand, Africa's rhino populations are threatened by extinction.
The recent ruling can create dangerous loopholes to enable rhino horn smuggling, directly undermining China's enforcement actions against this illegal trade. It is imperative China continues to stand strong in prohibiting all imports of rhino horn and products into and within the country despite this setback in legislation.
South Africa's Newly Legalized Rhino
Horn Trade Could Fuel Chinese Demand
Jimmiel Mandima / African Wildlife Foundation
(October 18, 2017) -- In April 2017, a court ruling in South Africa overturned the government's 2009 moratorium on domestic rhino horn trade and passed legislation permitting sales within the country. If leaders of other governments fail to communicate where they stand on rhino conservation, this legislation could prove disastrous for Africa's already dwindling rhino population.
In the immediate months following this reversal of the ban on selling rhino horns, a South African rhino rancher held an online auction for 500kg of rhino horn. The online platform was available in Chinese and Vietnamese languages, which points to the intent to target this market.
While the South African Department of Environmental Affairs placed the auction under evaluation, it still poses a severe threat to China's conservation efforts -- particularly its ban on domestic rhino horn trade.
Legalizing domestic rhino horn trade cripples conservation
The auction is only the beginning of potential threats facing Africa's rhinos due to this legislation. Legalizing rhino horn trade in South Africa can provide a legal cover for traffickers and implies there is ample opportunity to sell their products to buyers in China, Vietnam, and other Asian demand markets.
Dangerous loopholes can emerge and enable rhino horn smuggling, directly undermining China's enforcement actions against this illegal trade. The South African Department of Environmental Affairs admits it does not have the means to regulate and monitor such trade. Not to mention, this can potentially reignite the previously debunked belief that rhino horn possesses medicinal properties.
More than 80% of the world's rhino population lives in South Africa. Rhinos are being killed at unsustainable rates, primarily due to poaching as a result of demand for their horns. This legislation not only threatens the majority of the rhino population but also threatens China's efforts in reducing the demand for and trafficking of rhino horn.
China issued an official ban on domestic rhino horn trade on May 29, 1993. Its efforts to disrupt the illegal horn trade have seen meaningful results, but the trafficking in rhino horn continues to pose a significant threat to the survival of rhinos in South Africa and other range states.
South Africa's endorsement of rhino horn trade undermines China's positive efforts and leadership on this critical conservation issue. The country must continue to stand strong in prohibiting all imports of rhino horn and products into and within the country.
This commitment is imperative at a time when South Africa's legalization of rhino horn trade sends mixed messages to the marketplace. Explicit and consistent messaging needs to be communicated to potential consumers.
The court ruling to allow rhino horn trade in South Africa is a setback to all the well-intended efforts by the global community to delegitimize rhino horn trade for the protection of the remaining critically endangered and threatened rhino population. It should be condemned in no uncertain terms.
ACTION: Send a message Mr. Li Chunliang, Director, CITES Management Authority of China, and tell him China must stand its ground to save rhinos.
Hailing from the Masvingo Province in Southern Zimbabwe, Jimmiel has been interested in conserving African wildlife his entire life. African Wildlife Foundation's mission fits what has always been his passion -- to contribute to environmental conservation work that connects community livelihoods.
Changing Mindsets: Combating Rhino Horn Demand in Vietnam
Harleen Sehmi / African Wildlife Foundation
To measure the success of our demand-reduction campaign in Vietnam, we conducted a series of surveys designed to measure changing attitudes between 2014 and 2016. We are already seeing the effects of the ads with an increase in awareness about the dangers of the rhino horn trade, and even a 72.7 percent decrease in the number of people who believe that rhino horn can cure cancer.
(October 12, 2017) -- No scientific evidence proves rhino horn to be a magical cure-all for ailments ranging from cancer to hangovers, yet poachers decimate rhino populations. In demand centers across China and Southeast Asia, an upwardly mobile market continues to seek out rhino horn as a high-status multipurpose medicine.
This recent surge in demand has seen the number of slaughtered rhinos increase dramatically. In 2007 just 13 rhinos were killed in South Africa, and in 2014 this figure rose to 1,215 -- the highest the country has ever recorded.
Experts have attributed these statistics to a combination of geopolitical and socioeconomic factors including consuming nations' growing presence in Africa, the involvement of organized crime, and the emergence of Vietnam as a primary importer.
African Wildlife Foundation and WildAid partnered with local Vietnamese NGO CHANGE to expand the successful "Stop the Demand" campaign into Vietnam, raising awareness about rhinos and the horn trade. Available in English, Vietnamese and Mandarin, "The Sickening Truth" featured graphic footage of a rhino left for dead after poachers hacked her horn off (viewer discretion is advised). The public service announcement was released across television networks as well as social media sites.
To better understand the dynamics of Vietnam's growing rhino horn market, the campaign partners and the Nielsen Corporation interviewed 400 residents in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. The same baseline surveywas replicated in 2016 to assess changes in attitudes and beliefs and to measure the impact of the campaign.
Fewer people believe that rhino horn can cure cancer
In 2016 only 9.4% of respondents believed that rhino horn can cure cancer, compared to 34.5% in 2014. While this suggests that the campaign successfully eroded the idea of the horn's medical efficacy, the realities pushing locals towards traditional forms of medicine to treat cancer persist.
Over 150,000 new cases are diagnosed in Vietnam annually, and a shortage of radiotherapy machines in the country means many people die without this effective treatment.
More people understand that rhino horn is made of keratin
Only 31% of respondents in 2014 were aware that rhinos are killed for their horn. By 2016, the number of respondents who knew this fact had risen by 74%. That rhino horn is composed of substances found in hair and fingernails was only known to 19% of respondents in 2014.
Thanks in part to the Nail Biters campaign, awareness about this increased by 258% in 2016. Based on the simple idea that "Rhino horn has nothing your own nails don't have," the posters showed international and Chinese celebrities biting their nails.
People were encouraged to make a similar poster of themselves on a mobile site and share these on social media: 98,500 users generated similar nail biting posters and shared them 16 million times.
Fewer people want to buy rhino horn
In 2016, 72% of respondents showed a stronger intent to not buy rhino horn in the future. However, this is only a 17% increase from the last survey in 2014 when 61% showed a strong intent to avoid purchasing rhino horn.
Another survey by World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC in 2013 found that horns are consumed by "educated, successful and powerful individuals" -- a significant market that could be difficult to destabilize. To commemorate World Rhino Day this year, AWF and WildAid released a PSA with renowned Chinese collector Ma Weidu condemning China's culture of rhino horn collectibles.
While awareness-building has significant benefits in stopping demand, it must be supported by global law enforcement. Although Vietnam is revising its penal code to strengthen penalties for wildlife crime offenses, South Africa's proposal to permit domestic trade of horns may be hindering the progress.
ACTION: View the full 2017 State of Rhino Horn Demand in Vietnam survey results
Harleen Sehmi is the Digital Content Officer at African Wildlife Foundation. She loves connecting audiences all over the world with AWF's work in diverse landscapes and its impact on communities.
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