In the debate on whether to legalize the rhino horn trade, there is a lot to be learnt from visiting the main importing country, Vietnam. Damien Mander, CEO of International Anti-Poaching Foundation recounts his experience (see here for the pdf) of meeting experts on Traditional Vietnamese Medicine and conservation in the country. The main message from his visit was three fold:
Consumer demand can not be reduced by campaigns
Demand for rhino horn is increasing because it is ingrained in the culture and it is a status symbol. So as incomes rise so does demand. Mander speaks to the Stan Gunn, head of Vietnam’s largest media company who estimates than a “well structured” (but not necessarily effective) campaign against the use of horn would cost around US$50 million.
“Do you think spending the same amount in the UK could convince Manchester United supporters to become Manchester City supporters?…This is not just 1000s of years of culture, this is 1000s of years of ingrained DNA…and no amount of Western-based media campaign would alter this”
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He said that a media campaign may have short term impacts, but follow-up surveys reveal very limited results and not where it counts.
The opposition of sustainable use is largely philosophical
Conservationists are opposed to de-horning of rhino, a practice that devalues the animal considerably for poachers. Mander asks if this is any different from the humane farming of livestock for foods or the de-sexing of pets.
Illegal trade is removing the incentives for sustainable management
A landowner in South Africa has increasingly less incentive to manage rhino herds as there is insufficient protection. Effective anti poaching units are way beyond available national budgets. Under a legal scenario, “the harvesting of just one horn each year at current market value, the landowner can now invest what is needed into anti-poaching efforts and reduce the threat to the population” – if one 3kg horn is worth around USD180,000, this would make sense.