Illegal trade in rhino horn: new markets, new uses, new challenges

Jo Shaw

New demand from the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam is believed to be driving the current illegal trade in rhino horn. As a new generation economic powerhouse, Viet Nam’s economy is projected to be one of the world’s fastest growing markets by 2025. At the same time, rapidly changing attitudes are fuelling a booming market for luxury products and giving rise to behaviour predicated upon conspicuous consumption.

Historically, rhino horn usage in Asia has been associated with reducing temperature, especially internal heat in the blood, and purging the body and blood of toxins. However, the modern palliative applications purported by contemporary Vietnamese dealers are far greater than those within traditional belief systems.  Rhino horn is now being prescribed for ailments of unprecedented severity, including treatment of life-threatening diseases such as cancer.

Beyond the terminally ill, there are at least three other user groups: belief in rhino horn’s detoxification properties, especially following excessive intake of alcohol and rich food, has given rise to an affluent group of habitual users, who mix rhino horn powder with liquid as a hangover-curing tonic. This group characterises “face consumption”, whereby extravagant usage of something rare and expensive is equated with wealth and status amongst associates. A third consumer group represents a recent trend amongst middle- to upper-income mothers who keep rhino horn at hand for home preparation of medicines to treat high fever, especially that which occurs in children.  Finally, there are those using rhino horn to embrace the cultural imperative of giving expensive gifts as a means to curry favour with socio-economic or political elites.
This presentation provides an overview of dynamics currently driving an escalating illicit trade in rhino horns from South Africa to Viet Nam and suggests remedial strategies and interventions to prevent further losses of Africa’s iconic but threatened rhino species.

Presentation Topic

Illegal trade in rhino horn: new markets, new uses, new challenges

Contact Dr Shaw:

Rhino Co-ordinator, WWF South Africa, 1st Floor, Bridge House, Boundary Terraces, Mariendahl Lane, Newlands, 7735


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