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Demand for rhino horn drops 38 percent in Vietnam after advertising campaigns

A new poll finds that consumer demand for rhino horn in Vietnam has dropped precipitously following several advertising campaigns. According to the poll by the Humane Society International (HIS) and Vietnam CITES, demand has plunged 38 percent since last year.

The poll, conducted in six cities in Vietnam, found that 2.6 percent of respondents said they would continue to buy rhino horn, down from 4.2 percent last August. In Hanoi, where many of the publicity campaigns were targeted, demand fell from 4.5 percent to 1 percent.

The HIS and CITES launched a public awareness campaign in August 2013 to drive home the message that rhinos were dying for the illegal trade and that rhino horn is not medicinal. The campaign included a informational children’s book, entitled I’m A Little Rhino. This campaign was distributed through women’s groups, businesses, and school children.

HIS and Vietnam CITES’ rhino horn campaign was complemented by another campaign by TRAFFIC and WWF. Both campaigns used the fact that rhino horn is primarily made up of keratin—the same material that makes up human finger and toe nails—to drive home the substance’s lack of medicinal value, including the image of human feet growing from where the rhino’s horn would be.

White rhino in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Last year, South Africa lost over a thousand rhinos to poachers. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

White rhino in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Last year, South Africa lost over a thousand rhinos to poachers. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

“People who consume it actually believe it can treat cancer and rheumatism,” said Teresa Telecky with HIS. “We told people that rhino horn has no medicinal properties, and that it’s illegal to buy, sell or transport it.”

The poll also found a significant drop among Vietnamese who believed rhino horn was medicinal. Last year, 51 percent of respondents said they believed rhino horn was medicinal, while the new poll had 38 percent saying yes, a decline of around 25 percent.

Rhino poaching has escalated over the past seven years, after a respite. Vietnam, along with China, has been seen as one of the largest drivers of the illegal trade, which has cost the lives of thousands of rhinos. Last year, 1,004 rhinos were slaughtered by poachers in South Africa for their horns.

The majority of the world’s rhino species are facing down extinction, while a number of subspecies have already vanished for good. Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus), and black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) are each listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. White rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) are the world’s most abundant rhinos and, as such, the most common victims of poachers.

“We’re still seeing serious levels of illegal killing,” said John Scanlon, the secretary general of CITES. “The poll figures are promising, but it’s the beginning, not the end of stopping this illicit trade.”

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