The carcass of the poached rhino was about a week old when the Vietnamese delegation saw it in a South African wildlife park. There was a strong smell of rot, and animals had scavenged most of the meat. Rangers found the bullet that killed it by scouring the ground with a metal detector. The rhino horn was gone, hacked off its snout.
“They could see the chop marks, the axe marks on the skull,” conservationist Andrew Paterson said Tuesday of the half a dozen Vietnamese, who had traveled to South Africa to learn about the illegal trade in rhino horns, fueled in large part by demand in Vietnam.
The diverse group from Vietnam, which included a politician, a comedian and a police officer, was brought to South Africa, home to the vast majority of the world’s rhinos, in a campaign to raise public awareness in Vietnam about the intensifying poaching problem. The aim is to fight perceptions among some Vietnamese that rhino horn is a status symbol and a healing agent for serious illness, though lax law enforcement and alleged corruption are slowing the effort.
There is no evidence that rhino horn, made from the same material as fingernails, is an effective medicine. Paterson, CEO of the non-profit Rhinose Foundation, said the spread of an “urban legend” in recent years that ingesting the horn can cure cancer contributed to an explosive demand and an ensuing surge in poaching.
Buyers and users of rhino horn often give it as a gift to relatives, business colleagues or figures of authority, and they associate it with a feeling of “peace of mind,” according to consumer research by two conservation groups, WWF and TRAFFIC. Jo Shaw, rhino coordinator for WWF in South Africa, said in a statement Tuesday that typical users of rhino horn are successful, well-educated men over the age of 40 who live in urban areas and value a luxury lifestyle. More....