Monday, 10 October 2011
Vietnam joins anti-poaching rhino campaign
A pioneering conservation campaign in Vietnam last year made its citizens aware of the perilous state of Asia’s endangered tigers.
Now Nguyen Trung Kien hopes a similar effort will turn public attention in his country to the plight of South Africa’s rhino.
“The tiger is very close to us in Vietnam because it’s one of the 12 animals in our calendar,” said Nguyen, a member of the Vietnamese embassy in South Africa.
“The campaign was good because people realised the importance of protecting the tiger and a lot of young people joined.
“People learnt about the tiger in real life. My son, who is four, asked me if the tiger was like a dog.
“I said the tiger was dangerous and could kill us, but I told him it was beautiful and must be protected.”
But like the tiger, whose body parts are in demand for medicinal use in Asia, Nguyen said he realised any campaign that sought to stop the use of rhino horn come up against ancient belief systems.
“In Vietnam, people don’t know much about rhino. But we have a billion people (also in surrounding states) who use oriental medicine and believe rhino horn is a treatment. It’s a false belief, we need to tell them that, and that wildlife here in South Africa is connected to their lives in Vietnam.”
Nguyen was among a senior Vietnamese delegation who met this week with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to finalise an agreement on wildlife protection and law enforcement – the core focus is the 311 rhino that have fallen prey to the bullets and chainsaws of international crime syndicates this year.
Fundisile Mketeni, the deputy director general of biodiversity and conservation at the department, told a media briefing this week that discussions with consumer countries like Vietnam would extend to China and Thailand, in a bid to stem the carnage.
Several Vietnamese nationals have been caught smuggling rhino horn out of the country. The latest case is that of Duc Manh Chu, who tried to smuggle 12 rhino horns through OR Tambo International.
“We know we have a challenge with rhino,” said Mketeni.
“But we cannot only protect rhino. Tomorrow, it’s elephant ivory. Our focus is on looking at the broader issues of wildlife, and the illegal killing of rhino.”
Vietnam did not have a specific campaign around rhino poaching, explained Twan Cong Ha, the leader of the delegation, through an interpreter.
“We’ve been running several conservation programmes and campaigns. Our hope after these working sessions (with the DEA) is to come up with an (awareness) campaign for a specific species.”
Twan acknowledged that in Vietnam, the belief persisted that rhino horn could cure cancer – contrived, according to conservationists, by wildlife syndicates to fuel more profit in the bloody trade.
“Personally, I don’t believe in that statement or rumour. We have got a medical research institution involved in a process to verify if rhino horn can cure cancer, and we will make that public.”
But Nguyen said in Asia, oriental medicine had ancient roots that were trusted.
“In oriental medicine, you learn by experience.
“A thousand years ago someone said the use of a product could cure… people still believe that today… ”
And it’s not just about the claimed medicinal values of rhino horn.
Nguyen explained that an Asian royal used a cup made of rhino horn centuries ago to drink alcohol.
“To get rich speedily, people use these cups to act like the king.”
The Javan rhino has virtually disappeared from Vietnam, too, said Nguyen. “We are also victims (of rhino poaching).
“Poor people get paid to traffic rhino horn. We need to prevent poaching at the very beginning and we need to stop the user from (holding) the false belief that rhino horn can cure cancer, which is wrong.”
Wildlife was under threat everywhere, he said.
“I went to a game farm and I looked through the binoculars at a wild dog. I thought ‘why do we need to shoot this animal, it is beautiful’, but people here in South Africa are killing them.”