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

What are people in Vietnam using rhino horn for?

‘In essence there’s still a belief in it’s medicinal properties, the fact that it’s a very powerful medicine, that it can cleanse and cool the body. It’s being prescribed for a very wide range of symptoms and illnesses, much broader than we perhaps expected. It’s also being perceived as a kind of preventive medicine, a panacea, and people are gifting it to older family members to help them stay healthy in the future, not necessarily to treat a chronic illness right now,’ said Dr Shaw.

AMHRW183 White rhino at sunrise

Horn is seen as a preventive medicine, a panacea

‘But the primary driver seems to be the emotional benefits that are associated with it – the fact it’s supposed to make you feel strong and powerful and wealthy. Because it’s so expensive and rare and powerful, by giving it to someone you are bestowing great favour upon them. You are showing in what high esteem you hold them.

Is a lot of the horn being consumed fake?

‘The people we were talking to, the guys who are using the real stuff, are not going to medicine shops and buying it. They are buying it from a friend of a friend, they are buying it through word of mouth from within their trusted groups,’ Dr Shaw suggested. ‘I’m sure it’s very likely that the stuff that’s advertised more widely in traditional medicine shops isn’t the real thing, that the shops are preying on the broader demand. But the guys at the level of the market that we’re looking at are getting horn from what they consider trusted sources, and that’s part of the appeal.’

Do horn consumers care about wild rhinos and the poaching?

The survey revealed just how disassociated people using rhino horn felt from rhinos in the wild. ‘The rhino message didn’t resonate very strongly with them,’ said Dr Shaw. ‘People felt very disassociated from the wildlife. The accusation that Vietnamese were responsible for the death of rhinos didn’t really have a logical connection. People would say, ”well I didn’t shoot the rhino”, or ”the rhinos are hidden in the forest, we don’t see them. They don’t matter to us”.’

There wasn’t a strong link with nature, so trying to educate people by showing them pictures of dead rhinos and carcasses didn’t have any resonance. She explained that it was difficult using images of rhinos because of the myth around rhinos associated with how big, powerful and strong they are. ‘Images showing rhinos with big horns, is simply reinforcing that message. So for us that’s been something really important to learn.’

What happens next?

‘We’re just about to finish a second quick survey to be clear on what exactly the message should be, if it’s not ‘don’t kill our rhinos’ because that doesn’t have any impact. And to find out who should be saying it? Are celebrities the right way to get the message across? If David Beckham does TV adverts telling you to switch off the tap while you’re cleaning your teeth, are you actually going to do that? Or is it better coming from someone within your peer group? It’s also best to work with positive messaging.’

ACPP49 Poached white rhino carcass, Lewa Conservancy

Vietnamese see poaching as South Africa’s problem

One thing that did come through quite strongly in the survey has been the need for any campaign to be backed up by strong law enforcement. ‘In terms of changing behaviour, you need to inform people, but the more likely they are to be penalised, the more the message is reinforced.’

‘There’s been almost no risk of people being caught so far,’ Dr Shaw explained. ‘There have been very few arrests for anyone, maybe a few traffickers for horn coming into the country, but almost nothing at the consumer end. It’s not seen as a risk. In fact when asked for a solution the Vietnamese said South Africa should be doing more, they should crack down on the poachers. They found it very difficult to understand why this should be Vietnam’s problem. So I think it’s a good step in the right direction the Government has acknowledged the problem and is now talking about it. ‘

‘The brief will now be going out to advertisers to design a campaign for us. The group we have decided to focus on is the current user, because given so many of the drivers influencing him are around his status and how he’s viewed, that in some ways makes him quite vulnerable. If you can just get the whispers starting in those groups that actually this isn’t so clever, potentially there’s a way to shift things there, and in doing so you would hopefully change the behaviour of the intender market which is modelling behaviour on Mr Big and wants to be him,’ she added.

‘We do have quite a short period of time to make a really big change, to influence the users at the moment. I don’t think we should be niaïve about what a challenge that is. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy either. If we want to have an impact that’s where we have to start. Obviously long term the demand is not only rhino horn, but any number of other wildlife products. Demand from Asia is going to be a problem long term, but in terms of rhinos we have decided to focus this campaign on the main driver that we see at the moment.’

AMHRW175 White rhino cow with calf

Wildlife crime is becoming a threat to national economies in Africa

Dr Shaw stressed it was important to get the message out there. ‘We need high level political commitment to combating wildlife crime. Wildlife crime is becoming a threat to national security and national economies in Africa. It was great at the London conference to see that being acknowledged. We’ve seen the launch of the US strategy by President Obama. But there’s still a lot of misconception about where rhino horn goes and what it’s being used for. In South Africa there almost seems to be a sense of defeat, that this problem is bigger than us and we can’t solve it. That’s absolutely not the case, we can’t give up now, there’s still a lot that can be done.’

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