By Paul Fattig
While in Vietnam working to reduce the illegal trade in rhinoceros horns, Ashland resident Pepper Trail helped hand out pieces of a horn during training workshops.
"When we passed it around, some of the guys would surreptitiously take off a bristle and eat it," Trail said. "And these were the conservation guys working with us.
"I don't know if they thought it was doing them any good or they were just curious," he added.
But it illustrated the long-held belief within the Vietnamese culture that the massive horns have medicinal properties, he said.
Trail, 59, returned Aug. 11 after spending two months in Vietnam, mainly in Hanoi, helping to combat illegal wildlife trade. He is the senior forensic scientist in ornithology at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, the nation's top wildlife forensics facility.
While in Vietnam, he worked as an Embassy Science Fellow representing the U.S. Department of State, which the Vietnam government had asked for assistance.
Vietnam is a member of the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species, which seeks to stop the illegal trafficking of wildlife.
With rhino horns going for more than $25,000 a pound on the black market, it's a tall order to prevent the species from being killed off by poachers, Trail said.
"As long as there are desperately poor people in Africa and there is a lot of money to be made, it is very difficult to control the illegal trade," he said. "So reducing demand is critical. More....