15 Apr 2014: Report

A Public Relations Drive to
Stop Illegal Rhino Horn Trade

Conservation groups are mounting campaigns to persuade Vietnamese consumers that buying rhino horn is decidedly uncool. But such efforts are likely to succeed only as part of a broader initiative to crack down on an illicit trade that is decimating African rhino populations.

by mike ives

The postcard-sized advertisements that appeared this winter at three health clubs in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, were unlike anything the clubs had ever displayed. Typical ads there promote upscale restaurants or golfing lessons that interest the club's clientele of expatriates and wealthy Vietnamese. But the new ones showed an image of a rhinoceros whose horn had been replaced with, of all things, human feet.

"Rhino horn is made of the same stuff as human nails," an accompanying slogan said in Vietnamese. "Still want some?"

The ads were sponsored by TRAFFIC, a U.K.-based group that monitors the international wildlife trade, and WWF, the Swiss-based environmental

Click to Enlarge
Vietnamese rhino campaign

WWF/TRAFFIC
An ad campaign in Vietnam depicts human feet protruding from the head of a rhinoceros.
organization. The aim was to persuade current or would-be consumers that rhino horn, contrary to local lore, has no magical medicinal benefits.

Vietnam has joined China, its northern neighbor, as a central driver of soaring global demand for rhinoceros horn, according to wildlife experts and law enforcement agents. Now, after pursuing legislative and diplomatic solutions to the rhino crisis for years, some conservation groups are opening a second front focused on reducing demand for rhino horn among Vietnamese consumers.

Cracking down on poaching and policing the illegal wildlife trade have long been the main strategies for saving rhinos and other endangered species from extinction. But there is a growing movement to confront the key force
At least five organizations have started campaigns to blunt consumer demand for rhino horn.
behind the trade — the consumer’s desire for a product. At least five nonprofit organizations, four of them international, have started campaigns in Vietnam in the last few years to blunt consumer demand for rhino horn. The groups have long collaborated on fighting the illegal importation into Asia of rhino horn and elephant ivory. But today, “demand reduction” is an increasingly important focus of their work and a topic of discussion at wildlife conferences and symposia.

Some advocates point to recent campaigns in China — where wildlife groups have been battling ivory importation and shark fin consumption for years — as a bellwether of how campaigns to blunt consumer demand may play out in Vietnam. But they are quick to acknowledge that reducing demand cannot stand on its own as a strategy. The Hong Kong-based Shark Fin Trade Merchants Association, for example, says demand-reduction campaigns of recent years are cutting into fin traders’ profits. But the campaigns were accompanied by an official decision to ban the product from state banquets, coupled with a growing spate of refusals by international airlines to carry shark fins as cargo.

And although the basketball star Yao Ming and other Chinese celebrities have publicly advocated against the purchase of ivory and other illicit wildlife products, a key break came in 2011 when pressure from conservation groups persuaded the Chinese government and Baidu, the Internet search giant, to clamp down on online auction sites for endangered wildlife products. Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director at
'We have to realize what we are doing is social change — and social change could take generations.'
the Massachusetts-based International Fund for Animal Welfare, which is fighting ivory trafficking in China, said those actions led in 2012 to reductions of 40 percent in auction volumes.

“I’m glad to see in the last two, three years that more focus is put on demand,” says Ge Gabriel. “But we have to realize that what we are doing, really, is social change — and social change could take generations.”

Tom Milliken, a rhino expert who opened TRAFFIC'S first Asia office in Japan 32 years ago, noted that in the 1980s and 1990s in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, rhino horn use was virtually eradicated using a combination of strategies. These included law enforcement, campaigns to reduce consumer demand, and the threat of economic sanctions from some segments of the international community.

Milliken says that today's demand-reduction strategies are driven more by market research and a growing — though far from complete — understanding of consumer behavior patterns. “We are much more sensitive to trying to understand the minds of those driving the trade and working from there,” he says, “not just projecting our own values.”

It’s still too early to tell whether the campaigns to lower demand for rhino horn will be a success in Vietnam. But those involved in the fight against the shadowy rhino horn black market say that law enforcement strategies in Vietnam, a nation bedeviled by corruption, have clearly been insufficient. A Hanoi-based non-profit, ENV (Education for Nature - Vietnam), says that since 2010 no one has been sentenced to jail for trafficking in rhino horn, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of seven years. Nguyen Phuong Dung, vice director of ENV, says that the criminals who smuggle rhino horn into Vietnam from Africa are linked to larger Vietnamese crime syndicates that also traffic in tiger bones and other illicit goods.

Some Asian consumers buy crushed rhino horn for up to $25,000 per pound.
Rhino horn has been used in Vietnamese traditional medicines for centuries, but wildlife experts say consumption of the product by Vietnamese has spiked since the mid 2000s in tandem with swift economic growth. Some Asian consumers buy crushed rhino horn for up to $25,000 per pound, according to U.S. law enforcement officers. Asia-based wildlife experts say rhino horn is widely seen as an exclusive luxury good and a status symbol.

Soaring demand has led to a dramatic increase in the pace of rhino killings since 2008. According to TRAFFIC, a record 1,004 were killed last year in South Africa, which has nearly three quarters of the world’s wild rhino population. The figure marked a sharp increase over the 2012 death toll of 668. Fewer than 25,000 rhinos are now left in Africa.

Vietnam’s government has taken some high-profile steps to address rhino horn trafficking and consumption, such as cracking down in recent years on public sales of rhino horn in Hanoi and signing a 2012 memorandum of understanding with South Africa on biodiversity conservation. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung also issued a directive in March calling for stricter enforcement of wildlife crime. But these steps appear to have had little effect, and the government faces mounting pressure from the international conservation community. In 2011, Vietnamese wildlife officials fended off criticism from conservationists after poachers hunted the country’s native population of Javan rhinoceros to extinction. And last year CITES, a global convention on rare fauna and flora, ordered Vietnam to intensify its efforts on combating rhino horn trafficking.

Naomi Doak, an organizer in TRAFFIC’s Vietnam office, says TRAFFIC and WWF are researching which newspapers and television programs to target in order to reach potential users of rhino horn, who claim its benefits range from boosting male potency to curing cancer. She said the goal in upcoming advertising is not so much to explicitly tell consumers not to use rhino, but rather to portray its use as unfashionable by noting, for example,
A survey shows Vietnamese buy rhino horn less as a ‘cancer cure’ and more as a status symbol.
that is composed mostly of keratin, a protein found in human nails and hair.

Last year, ENV, in partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation, distributed a public service-style video to Vietnamese television stations showing gruesome footage of a hornless, suffering rhinoceros. It asked: “How could eating her horn make you feel better?”

And WildAid, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, launched a demand-reduction campaign in March featuring a coterie of Vietnamese officials and celebrities, including Miss Vietnam, Nguyen Thu Thuy, and Johnny Tri Nguyen, a popular actor. The launch at an upscale Hanoi hotel included a screening of a pro-wildlife video featuring Britain's Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and the soccer star David Beckham.

“People need to understand the horror of the problem they create with this superstition,” WildAid’s executive director, Peter Knights, said of the rhino horn obsession, according to a press release from the event. It said the campaign would conduct surveys and organize events and programs in the coming years to curb demand for rhino horn.

So far, the groups have earmarked a total of only a few hundred thousand dollars for their consumer campaigns. And Daniel Lindgren of Rapid Asia, a Bangkok-based consultancy that evaluates social marketing strategies, said that such campaigns in Asia can be especially tricky because firmly held superstitions tend to be more widespread than they are in Western consumer markets, making it harder to change people’s opinions.

“This is the problem with a lot of NGOs I talk to: People tend to see behavior change as a black-and-white thing,” he explains. “Whereas, in fact, behavior change is a series of steps ... and moving people up those

The Dirty War Against
Africa’s Remaining Rhinos

The Dirty War Against Africa’s Remaining Rhinos
The killing of rhinos has escalated dramatically, especially in South Africa, Adam Welz writes, where the slaughter is being orchestrated by brazen, highly organized gangs that smuggle the rhinos' horns to black markets in China and Southeast Asia.
READ MORE
steps is very important for behavior change to take place.”

In Vietnam, wildlife campaigners say the first phase in their rhino horn work has been attempting to figure out who was actually consuming it — or planning to. Yet the results from their preliminary surveys often yielded answers that contradicted their assumptions. For example, ENV researchers, after informally surveying a range of Vietnamese involved in the rhino trade, found that the product was being consumed less as a presumed “cancer cure,” as they had suspected, and more as a status symbol.

One potential pitfall of the consumer campaigns, according to Milliken of TRAFFIC, is that by emphasizing the rarity and high cost of rhino horn, advocates could inadvertently enhance the product’s value in the eyes of potential consumers. Whether the Vietnamese government is serious about cracking down on the rhino horn trade also remains a major question. Nor is it clear whether any of these efforts can succeed in time to prevent hunters and poachers from driving rhinos to extinction in South Africa.

Vincent Nijman, an expert on Southeast Asia’s wildlife trade at Oxford Brookes University in Britain, says demand reduction is unlikely to work on its own. However, he adds, because rhinos face such an enormous threat, the strategy may be worthwhile if conducted in tandem with robust law enforcement measures in Asia and Africa. “We need to do something,” Nijman explains. “So in that sense, it’s good to get it on the agenda.”



POSTED ON 15 Apr 2014 IN Biodiversity Energy Policy & Politics Pollution & Health Water Asia North America 

COMMENTS


Humiliate, shame, bully, disgrace, snub, dishonor, demean, scorn, and publicly shame the people who pay poachers to slaughter these beautiful wild animals into extinction. We need to kill the demand to stop the slaughter. Educate these people and societies that there is no known medicinal qualities in rhino horn and ivory trinkets are a disgrace (embarrass them). To get their attention enlist influential people, from all professions, politicians, actors, musicians, artists... If people they admire, honor, and idolize tell them to stop, they will listen. Blast the message on social media. Please join me.
Posted by Suzanne Flood on 15 Jun 2014


POST A COMMENT

Comments are moderated and will be reviewed before they are posted to ensure they are on topic, relevant, and not abusive. They may be edited for length and clarity. By filling out this form, you give Yale Environment 360 permission to publish this comment.

Name 
Email address 
Comment 
 
Please type the text shown in the graphic.


mike ivesABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Ives is a journalist based in Hanoi, Vietnam. He writes for, among others, The New York Times, The Economist, and The Associated Press. Previously for Yale e360, he reported on Singapore's push toward sustainable building and a movement in developing countries to green the electronic waste industry.
MORE BY THIS AUTHOR

 
 

RELATED ARTICLES


On the Internet, Illegal Trade
In Endangered Wildlife Thrives

On eBay and elsewhere on the Internet, illegal wildlife and wildlife parts — from elephant ivory to tiger skins to monkey and crocodile skulls — are being sold. Bringing an end to this illicit activity is proving to be a daunting challenge.
READ MORE

With Fins Off Many Menus,
A Glimmer of Hope for Sharks

For decades, the slaughter of sharks – sought after for their fins and meat – has been staggering. But bans on finning and new attitudes in Asia toward eating shark fin soup are leading to optimism about the future for these iconic ocean predators.
READ MORE

Albania’s Coastal Wetlands:
Killing Field for Migrating Birds

Millions of birds migrating between Africa and Europe are being illegally hunted on the Balkan Peninsula, with the most egregious poaching occurring in Albania. Conservationists and the European Commission are calling for an end to the carnage.
READ MORE

Electric Power Rights of Way:
A New Frontier for Conservation

Often mowed and doused with herbicides, power transmission lines have long been a bane for environmentalists. But that’s changing, as some utilities are starting to manage these areas as potentially valuable corridors for threatened wildlife.
READ MORE

The Case Against a Legal Ivory Trade: It Will Lead to More Killing of Elephants
Proponents of easing the global ban on ivory are ignoring the fact that it was a legal market for ivory that pushed elephants toward extinction only a few decades ago. What’s needed now is not a legal ivory market, but better regulation and enforcement of the existing ban.
READ MORE

 

MORE IN Reports


Natura 2000: EU Reserves Are
Facing Development Pressures

by christian schwagerl
An astonishing 18 percent of the European Union’s land area is protected under a network of preserves known as Natura 2000. Now, at the urging of business interests and farmers, the EU is examining whether regulations on development in these areas should be loosened.
READ MORE

As Ocean Waters Heat Up,
A Quest to Create ‘Super Corals’

by nicola jones
With the world’s coral reefs increasingly threatened by warmer and more acidic seas, scientists are selectively breeding corals to create species with the best chance to survive in the coming century and beyond. Are genetically modified corals next?
READ MORE

A Clash of Green and Brown:
Germany Struggles to End Coal

by christian schwagerl
A recent battle over imposing a “climate fee” on coal-fired power plants highlights Germany’s continuing paradox: Even as the nation aspires to be a renewable energy leader, it is exploiting its vast reserves of dirty brown coal.
READ MORE

On an Unspoiled Caribbean Isle,
Grand Plans for Big Tourist Port

by fred pearce
East Caicos is a tropical jewel – the largest uninhabitated island in the Caribbean and home to rare birds and pristine turtle-nesting beaches. But plans for a giant port for cruise and cargo ships could change it forever.
READ MORE

A Little Fish with Big Impact
In Trouble on U.S. West Coast

by elizabeth grossman
Scientists are concerned that officials waited too long to order a ban on U.S. Pacific sardine fishing that goes into effect July 1. The dire state of the sardine population is a cautionary tale about overharvesting these and other forage fish that are a critical part of the marine food web.
READ MORE

Despite Hurdles, Solar Power in
Australia Is Too Robust to Kill

by jo chandler
No nation has as high a penetration of residential solar as Australia, with one in five homes now powered by the sun. And while the government has slashed incentives, solar energy continues to grow, thanks to a steep drop in the cost of PV panels and the country’s abundant sunshine.
READ MORE

Genetically Modified Mosquito
Sparks a Controversy in Florida

by lisa palmer
Officials in the Florida Keys are seeking to use a GM mosquito that could help prevent a recurrence of dengue fever there. But fears among some residents — which scientists say are unfounded — are slowing the release of mosquitoes whose offspring are genetically programmed to die.
READ MORE

Oasis at Risk: Oman’s Ancient
Water Channels Are Drying Up

by fred pearce
Since pre-Islamic times, Oman’s water systems known as aflaj have brought water from the mountains and made the desert bloom. But now, unregulated pumping of groundwater is depleting aquifers and causing the long-reliable channels to run dry.
READ MORE

Surge in Renewables Remakes
California’s Energy Landscape

by cheryl katz
Thanks to favorable geography, innovative government policies, and businesses that see the benefits of clean energy investments, California is closing in on its goal of generating a third of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
READ MORE

As Andes Warm, Deciphering
The Future for Tropical Birds

by daniel grossman
Scientists have theorized that tropical birds in mountainous regions will move uphill as the climate warms. But new research in the Peruvian Andes suggests that the birds will stay put and face a new threat — predator snakes that will climb into their territory to escape the heat.
READ MORE


e360 digest
Yale
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
.

SEARCH e360



Donate to Yale Environment 360
Yale Environment 360 Newsletter

CONNECT


ABOUT

About e360
Contact
Submission Guidelines
Reprints

E360 en Español

Universia partnership
Yale Environment 360 articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia, the online educational network.
Visit the site.


DEPARTMENTS

Opinion
Reports
Analysis
Interviews
Forums
e360 Digest
Podcasts
Video Reports

TOPICS

Biodiversity
Business & Innovation
Climate
Energy
Forests
Oceans
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Sustainability
Urbanization
Water

REGIONS

Antarctica and the Arctic
Africa
Asia
Australia
Central & South America
Europe
Middle East
North America

e360 PHOTO GALLERY

“Cuba
Photographer Robert Wintner documents the exquisite beauty and biodiversity of Cuba’s unspoiled coral reefs.
View the gallery.

e360 MOBILE

Mobile
The latest
from Yale
Environment 360
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile.

e360 VIDEO

Warriors of Qiugang
The Warriors of Qiugang, a Yale Environment 360 video, chronicles a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant. It was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
Watch the video.


header image
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland. © Google & TerraMetrics.

e360 SPECIAL REPORT

“Tainted
A three-part series Tainted Harvest looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup.
Read the series.

OF INTEREST



Yale