A secret mission to Vietnam
Posing as a Canadian wanting to sell rhino horn, South African photographer Brent Stirton captured photos of a Vietnamese woman drinking powdered rhino horn out of a shot glass.
That image - along with a set of photos showing rhino from which the horns have been cut, has won him a runners-up prize at the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards in the wildlife photo-journalistcategory.
The images were about a "clash of cultures" said Stirton yesterday.
"Rhino poaching is a symptom of a much larger issue of unsustainable resources. We have a huge population and demand for resources that is no longer sustainable."
Stirton, who works for National Geographic magazine, took the photo during a trip to Vietnam.
"There is a deep-seated cultural belief on that side [about the value of rhino horn as a medicine]. We need to respect that and try to understand how we can work with it."
The image, published in March, has hit the spotlight again because of Stirton's award. He was interviewed by Vietnam's largest daily newspaper, Tuoi Tre, yesterday.
"I [told] them that I don't want to disrespect their culture but traffickers are selling them something that doesn't work for a huge amount of money. It is the exploitation of sick people."
It took Stirton and journalist Peter Gwin at least six weeks of planning before they visited Vietnam.
"It is all networking to get to the right person. When you go and do work, the Vietnamese government is sensitive.
"If they found out you were going to show something potentially embarrassing to the country they would escort you out quite quickly."
As possessing rhino horn is illegal in Vietnam, Stirton said he had to be careful because he did not want to threaten the translator's safety.
"I was a bit shady. I asked where can I get this and where can I get that? I had to network and be pretty patient about it.
"I arrived at this particular woman because the dealers who were trying to sell me half a horn had already sold one half of the horn to her.
"I asked them to show me how it was being used. This was so I could know how to use it in Canada," he explained.
"The woman, who was using it to treat kidney stones, was quite happy to demonstrate."
JUSTICE FOR ANIMALS
- ON FRIDAY, the high-profile hearing of Dawie Groenewald, accused of killing 39 rhinos on his Musina farm, was postponed to May next year. This was the second delay, with his lawyers again requesting information from the state.
Groenewald was part of a rhino syndicate that included two veterinarians Karel Toet and Manie du Plessis.
They bought rhino from game farmers and dehorned them, selling the rhino meat to a local butcher. When the butcher no longer wanted them, the carcases were buried on Groenwald’s farm. The state has attached assets belonging to Groenewald and his wife Sariette worth R55-million — the amount believed to have made from the sale of rhino horn.
NGO Activists for Africa are outraged at the delay, saying it was the second one. Spokesman Miranda Jordan said: “It will be nearly two and half years since their arrest and this trial will not yet have started.”
- A VIETNAMESE man was fined R700000 on Friday for breaching the Customs and Excise Act for trying to deal in rhino horn. Duong That Tung was arrested on April 22 for trying to leave the country with three rhino horns valued at more than R7.5-million.
NGO Activists for Africa's Miranda Jordan said a fine instead of jail time did not send a strong message to poachers.
- THE trial of Thai rhino-poaching kingpin, Chumlong Lemtongthai, is set down for two weeks in the Kempton Park Magistrate's court next month.
He and his co-accused, including a South African game farmer and hunter, are accused of using Thai prostitutes to pose as trophy hunters in order to access rhino hunting permits.
Little was accomplished in the previous two week court appearance in June, after a Thai translator could not be found.- Katharine Child