WWF targets Vietnam market for rhino horn’s ’emotional’ benefits

The recent announcement from Vietnam’s Prime Minister asking all government departments to react strongly on wildlife crime is good news and an important step forward in the fight to end rhino poaching, according to the WWF’s Rhino Programme Manager for South Africa, Dr Jo Shaw.

Rhino horns in museum storage

Main driver for consumption of horn in Vietnam is emotional, not medicinal

‘It’s a significant step in the right direction, similar to last month’s London conference,’ she told us in an exclusive interview this week about WWF South Africa’s plans for a targeted ‘behaviour change’ public information campaign, in conjunction with TRAFFIC, designed to curb increasing consumption of rhino horn in the country.

‘A lot of high level leaders are acknowledging wildlife crime and the need to act on it as a serious issue,’ she said. ‘Even at the time we were releasing our survey results about the use of rhino horn in Vietnam last year, the Vietnamese government was still being very defensive and arguing against the idea the problem was actually anything to do with them. So the fact that the government has acknowledged it and is now talking about the problem is quite a big step forward.’

Working to change behaviour in rhino horn consumer countries is just part of a five-pronged approach the WWF is now taking to tackle the problem of rhino poaching. Its survey to find out exactly who is using rhino horn and why is part of this and has thrown up some worrying findings. For example it found that the main driver for consumption of rhino horn among users in Vietnam was emotional rather than purely medicinal. It also found the main users are consuming real horn, not fake horn. More worryingly it revealed the current demand for rhino horn in the country was just the tip of a potentially much larger iceberg.

AMHR84(D) White rhino with calf

Survey reveals many Vietnamese aspire to use horn

‘There’s this latent demand underneath. Economically Vietnam has been growing very strongly over the past few years, and has not been impacted by the global recession like other places. There’s every indication it will continue to do so. It’s a very young population that’s continuing to increase rapidly and people will continue to become more wealthy. The guys we identified as intending to consume rhino horn will become wealthy enough to do so and that’s a very worrying trend.’

‘Our work so far has been about understanding who the consumers are, what it is that drives them to buy and consume horn and how we can change that behaviour,’ Dr Shaw went on to explain.

‘We acknowledged from the beginning that work in Vietnam was desperately needed, but when we sat down to start looking at the campaign messaging, what we should be saying and who we should be saying it to, we realised that actually we weren’t completely sure. Some research we did made us concerned we could inadvertently end up increasing the desirability of rhino horn if we weren’t very clear in our understanding of who was buying it and why they were doing it. For that reason TRAFFIC employed IPSOS a market research company, to undertake some broad quantitative interviews, and some more focused qualitative ones, in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It wasn’t a random survey, it was a targeted campaign. We needed to identify the archetypal buyer, so we could understand how to talk to them.’

AMHRB116 Black rhino

Consumers were proud of using rhino horn

Dr Shaw said that at first there was some concern people might not admit to using or buying horn as it is what she describes as ‘a nominally illegal activity’ in Vietnam.

‘But almost the first week the surveyors went out – and I should just emphasise that these are Vietnamese nationals, speaking in Vietnamese, and using the same kind of methodology they would to find out about washing powder or a new brand of beer – people were not only very willing to admit that they were buying and using rhino horn, but also almost proud of it, boastful that this was a world that they were part of.’

So what is the market for rhino horn in Vietnam, who is using it?

Dr Shaw said their findings identified three groups:

  • ‘The real drivers of the market appear to be wealthy older businessmen, who are both buying and consuming horn and doing it very much within their group of friends. These people are in the upper echelons of society and form quite a tight-knit group; using rhino horn with friends and colleagues and buying the horn from people they knew. Being part of an exclusive network seems to be a big part of the appeal. For these guys making money and showing their colleagues how much money they are making is the most important thing in their world. They are not particularly influenced by their wives or their children, or things we might imagine are driving their consumption.’
  • ‘Older women in their fifties, who are often educated and quite wealthy. They tend to just buy the horn. There’s a split between people who are just buying and using, and people who are buying for others. So these women were tending to gift the horn either to their older parents, or to their children. These older wealthy women are often just buying it, driven by both medicinal and emotional reasons.’
  • ‘The third group we identified are what we call ”the intenders”. If the first group are the Mr Bigs, these are the Mr Bigs of the future. Mr Big is the boss at the moment, he’s the most important person in their world, they want to be him, they want to emulate him. They can’t afford to buy rhino horn at the moment, but a large proportion of people indicated they wanted to do so in the future. They are primarily just restricted by income. As soon as they have the funds to do so this is something they want to be part of.’

continued on page 2

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