Consolation for the terminally ill: study finds a surprising use for rhino horn
The study found wild rhino horn is preferred — suggesting farmed substitutes will not stave off poaching
As well as hangover cures and cancer treatments‚ Vietnamese are using poached rhino horn — mainly from SA — to console terminally ill relatives.
The discovery‚ which emerged during in-depth interviews with 30 recent purchasers of rhino horn in Hanoi and Ho Chi Min City‚ startled the leaders of a Danish-Vietnamese study of the reasons Vietnamese consumers buy illegal rhino horn.
"The surprising trend is that horn is increasingly being used as a symbolic gesture to console terminally ill family members‚" said Martin Nielsen of the University of Copenhagen.
"The horns are intended to provide the ill with a final source of pleasure and to demonstrate that their families have done everything possible to help them."
The World Wildlife Fund estimates 1‚054 South African rhino were killed by poachers in 2016‚ and 1‚028 in 2017.
The number of rhinos remaining is estimated to be 30‚000‚ with between 19‚000 and 21‚000 of them living in SA.
Writing in the journal Human Dimensions of Wildlife‚ Nielsen and his colleague, Dang Vu Hoai Nam‚ from the Vietnamese office of the German development agency GIZ‚ said their discovery could be used in campaigns to save the rhino.
A kilogram of powdered horn can fetch up to R1m.
Besides using it to console terminally ill relatives‚ the 30 Vietnamese interviewed also used it to treat hangovers and as a status symbol in business relations.
The study found buyers are mainly interested in horn sourced from wild rhinos and are willing to pay a premium for it.
Consequently‚ the researchers believe a legal‚ controlled trade of farmed rhino would probably not reduce poaching.
"Understanding the motivation of horn buyers is vital‚" said Nielsen. "Among other things‚ our results demonstrate that the nature of demand changes over time. As a result‚ we must continually rethink strategies to curb the trade in rhinoceros horn.
"The study suggests that information about the decline of rhinoceros populations and awareness about hunting being controlled by organised crime does not affect consumer demand. Dealing with the problem requires other strategies."
The rhino horn trade is among one of the most organised forms of environmental crime‚ and the number of rhinos killed by poachers has increased markedly since 2008.
Vietnam is the country with the greatest demand for horn‚ and so it bears the brunt of the blame for poaching.