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Wed Sep 28 14:02:01 CAT 2016

'You're nothing without rhino horn'

SCHALK MOUTON | 18 September, 2013 06:41
BOTTOMS UP: A wealthy woman drinks ground rhino horn in a coffee shop in Bao Loc, Vietnam. The horn she is consuming was part of a consignment the dealer claims came through Malaysia or Indonesia Picture: BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE

Meet Mr L. He is a Vietnamese citizen - and a proud rhino-horn user.

Mr L is wealthy. Influential. A decision-maker. His rhino horn shows that he has "arrived". He is important in his community - and in his own mind.

His rhino horn was a gift from his wife or his mother, or from a business partner trying to sweeten a deal.

It is one of his most important possessions. Something to show off to his friends and peers, whose opinions of him he holds in high regard.

Mr L is 48 years old. He is intelligent and educated. He knows that the rhino horn he grinds up for guests after dinner has been brought into the country illegally.

But he doesn't care. Rarely in his country's history has anybody been arrested or convicted for possession or use of rhino horn. If a crackdown started, he might think twice about using rhino horn.

He knows that a rhino has been killed for the horn he now possesses. But that doesn't matter. It is an animal in a forest in a far-off country. When they show him pictures of a rhino, slaughtered in South Africa for its horn, he shrugs his shoulders.

Mr L is one of the 5% of his countrymen (population 84million) who boast of using rhino horn.

It has detoxifying qualities, he believes, and gives him an emotional lift. He doesn't believe that it might cure a fatal disease.

His son bought him his previous rhino horn.

"I am still not sure how good it is, but my dad's friend used it, so I bought it for my dad.

"Though he does not have any fatal ailments, he says he feels healthy and well after using it. I think rhino horn has more of a mental value than a physical one," said the son.

Mr L's subordinates at work aspire to be in his shoes one day, and that means getting hold of rhino horn. They make up the 16% of the population that has not used rhino horn, but want to. Their problem is the $60000 (about R590000) per kilogram price tag.

Mr L is the personification of the rhino-horn user in Vietnam, as identified by a recent consumer research study funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature SA.

The study surveyed 720 individuals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and discovered that rhino horn is valued mainly for its social significance.

"The recent spike in poaching in South Africa is linked to Vietnam coming online bigtime as a market," said Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF SA.

Dr Jo Shaw, coordinator of WWF SA's rhino programme, said the trade in rhino horn has grown and collapsed repeatedly.

"History suggests that we're not fighting a losing battle yet," she said.

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