Rhino horn the new hangover cure in Vietnam

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Johannesburg - A new breed of moneyed Vietnamese are fuelling the involvement of criminal networks to secure South African rhino horn.

Traffic, a wildlife trade-monitoring network, has released a comprehensive report on SA’s rhino-poaching crisis. It points to an increased demand for horn in Vietnam, contributing to the deaths of almost two rhinos a day in SA.

“Vietnam, since 2003, has rapidly grown to become the world’s largest recipient of both legal and illegal sources of horn from South Africa,” reads the report, entitled “The South Africa-Vietnam Rhino Horn Trade Nexus”.

“Vietnam in the 1980s and 1990s was on no one’s radar. Now, with double-digit economic growth, there is suddenly growth in the trade,” said Tom Milliken, one of the authors of the report. Speaking at the launch of the report last night in Rosebank, Milliken said increased personal wealth in Vietnam was driving the horn trade.

His report identifies four types of rhino-horn consumers in the south-east Asian country. These include not only the terminally ill, but also users who take the horn as a detoxifying agent for alcohol and rich food.

A third consumer group, according to the report, identifies mothers who keep horn to treat their children’s fevers. The fourth group uses the horn as an expensive gift to curry favour with high-ranking officials.

“We found… cancer touts who would go into state hospitals looking for people who are desperately ill to sell rhino horn to,” Milliken said.

This increased demand had resulted in syndicates using loopholes in SA’s hunting policy and corrupt wildlife officials. This, the report said, was seen with the use of pseudo hunts in which Thai sex workers posed as hunters.

To feed the Vietnam market, poachers had evolved new methods in killing rhinos, such as using heavy-calibre weapons and crossbows.

These poachers, said report co-author Jo Shaw, “are using cellphones and fast cars and moving their product quickly to middlemen”.

The report calls for stronger political will to tackle rhino crime.

Milliken said Vietnam needed to put in place a system by which it could track rhino horn hunted legally. Shaw said that in SA there was a need for improved data collection, analysis and investigation. - The Star

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