By Melanie Gosling
Johannesburg - The figure of Hong Kong martial arts actor Jackie Chan standing next to a rhino is being beamed from TV screens all over Asia in shopping malls, at airports and in people’s homes.
His message is simple, “When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too”.
Chan is one of a growing number of celebrities used by NGO WildAid in an effort to “end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes” by strangling demand.
In the 30-second advert, Chan says that anyone who buys rhino horn is also paying for guns, bullets, pangas – and for the death of the rhino. “We are paying for the life of this beautiful creature,” Chan says.
He puts it to the audience that only when they stop buying horn, will the violence and death behind the horn cease.
WildAid chief executive and founder Peter Knights is in South Africa this week to speak about misconceptions in the media about the Asian side of rhino poaching.
“In Asia until recently, people genuinely did not understand the poaching problem. They’re told, ‘The rhino dies and we pick up the horn’. In China, they had not heard about the rhino crisis,” he said on Tuesday.
Knights set about changing that.
While law enforcement authorities and many NGOs focus efforts on anti-poaching and on breaking international criminal syndicates, Knights focused on stamping out the market for wildlife products. A start was to tell those who had bought wildlife products about the effect their purchases had on threatened species half a world away.
While rhino horn has been used by the traditional Chinese medicinal market for 2 000 years, the rocketing market in Vietnam is fairly recent.
In less than a decade, rhino horn has become prized in Vietnam as a supposed cure for anything from cancer to hangovers. Because of the enormous price it commands, it is coveted as a status symbol.
“We realised we need to change hearts and minds, and behaviour will follow.”
Knights has used David Beckham, Prince William and basketball star Yao Ming in the ad campaigns against the illegal wildlife trade, the fourth largest after drugs, weapons and human trafficking.
Knights said the organisation received about $200-million (R2.4-billion) a year in free media support for the campaigns, with its message reaching about 1 billion people a week.
But it has been a battle.
For years, no funders were interested in financing demand reduction, they were focused on saving the animals from being killed, or trying to bust the criminal syndicates involved.
Knights said while this action was crucial, it was not enough to win the battle.
“If there is enough money to be made, another syndicate will spring up. We need to strangle the world market. We’re specialising in doing this, because no one else is doing it.”
Knights said the organisation invested in producing a quality product, not in buying advertising space.
“We ask for the space free. Having top celebrities means we get top space.”
He said surveys, after anti-wildlife trade media campaigns have been running for some time, showed that attitudes do change: the belief in the medicinal qualities of rhino horn dropped from 58 to 44 percent.