Nearly half of Vietnamese have tried rhino horn to “cure” ailments, primarily alcohol-induced hangovers, with men over 40 being the primary customers – despite there being no proof that this works.
This is according to research conducted by Dr. Dao Truong from the research unit TREES (Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society) at the North-West University's Potchefstroom Campus in South Africa.
Vietnam is the world's largest consumer of illicit rhino horn products and it is in this Southeast Asian country that South Africa must focus its resources to stem the flow of rhino horn trade and counter rhino poaching, the university says.
The Vietnamese born, Canterbury University educated academic chose Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as his study sites as they are the two biggest rhino horn import destinations in Vietnam.
A previous study showed that women in their mid-50s were the main buyers of rhino horn whilst the end-users were primarily well-educated and successful men aged over 40.
Truong focused on male respondents with a monthly income of 30 million Vietnamese Dong. This equates to about R14,402 or US$1,400. He found that 47.2% indicated that they have consumed rhino horn.
The distribution between the cities was almost exactly equal.
A total of 88.5% of respondents reported being married and 98.95% were university graduates or higher.
His research showed: - Health related motivations were reported by 87.8% of respondents as a reason for using rhino horn
- 47.39% used rhino horn to reduce hangovers
- Just more than 30% used rhino horn to detoxify their bodies and
- the use of rhino horn to help cure life-threatening illnesses such as cancer were reported by 7.67% of respondents.
- Rhino horn is also often used during business transactions and especially to seal deals.
Although rhino horn is promoted as an aid to improve sexual potency, very few consumers reported using rhino horn for this purpose.
The research shows that television, radio and the internet are the most popular channels through which rhino horn consumers receive information about rhino horns.
It is illegal to use radio or television to advertise rhino horn as a product, but not to discuss its medical validity.
"The symbolic function of rhino horn as a medium to communicate status and prestige and obtain social leverage in Vietnamese society makes the reduction of demand extremely challenging,” Truong says. The solution to finding an alternative to rhino horn is twofold, he believes.
The one option is to look for an alternative which has the same symbolic value as rhino horn, something of cultural significance but cheaper. “Then, if taken into account that the majority of rhino horn users consumed it to curb hangovers, and that rhino horn is nothing more than a placebo, then the answer is clear.
A clever marketing campaign focusing on a prestige product that is proven to help cure hangovers can work wonders”.
“This is where the South African government and the Department of Tourism can play a major role in halting rhino poaching,” Truong says.
According to the Save the Rhino foundation, rhino poaching has increased by 5000% in South Africa since 2008. In 2014 alone a staggering 1,215 rhinos were poached - that is one rhino every eight hours.
Up until 30 April, 393 rhino have been poached in 2015. The reason is simple: the retail price of rhino horns has ballooned from US$4,700 per kilogram (R58,421) in 1993 to US$6,500 (R807,950) in 2012.
"My hope is that this research may assist governments, NGOs and international agencies to establish policies and strategies to mitigate or prevent further loss of the iconic rhino," says Truong.
Prof Melville Saayman, director of TREES, commented: "An urgent behavioural change intervention is needed and many of the methods used so far have proved ineffective. Why not try this?"