Lam Tak-fai, acting head of Ports and Maritime Command, arranges rhino horns, part of a 33 rhino horns, ivory chopsticks and bracelets shipment seized by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department, during a news conference in Hong Kong November 15, 2011. Hong Kong Customs seized on Tuesday a total of 33 rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about HK$17.4 million ($2.23 million), inside a container shipped from Cape Town, South Africa, according the a customs press release. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (CHINA - Tags: CRIME LAW BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)

Durban - Far from being used widely in ancient Oriental medicine potions, horns from South African rhinos are now increasingly used to promote business deals or to ease the throbbing hangovers of rich, middle-aged men in Vietnam.

This is the surprising conclusion of a Vietnamese-born researcher at the Potchefstroom campus of North-West University.

Dr Dao Truong, who conducted a survey of more than 600 wealthy Vietnamese men in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, found that 47% of the respondents admitted to using rhino horn for a variety of reasons.

The survey focused specifically on Vietnamese men with an income of more than the equivalent of R14 000 a month.

Nearly 90% were married and 99% had studied at university.

Of the men who admitted to using rhino horn, almost 47% reported that they used it to ease the effects of hangovers. Just over 30% said they used rhino horn potions as a cleansing agent to “detoxify” their bodies, while just under 8% said the horn was used in an attempt to cure life-threatening diseases such as cancer.

“Although rhino horn is promoted as an aid to improve sexual potency, few consumers reported using rhino horn for this purpose, despite them being middle-aged married men.”

Shavings of rhino horn were also used often during business meetings, especially to seal financial transactions.

“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,” he said.

“While individuals may be willing to change consumption behaviour in home environments, collective interests and the symbolic place of rhino horn in social networks and events means that the refusal to consume or serve rhino horn may be interpreted as putting personal interests ahead of those in the group,” Truong said.

While the exact breakdown of consumption in the Far East remains unclear, Vietnam has emerged as one of the main destinations of rhino horns poached mainly in South Africa over the past seven years,

Last year, at least 1 215 rhinos were poached for their horns in South Africa, compared to fewer than 20 animals in in 2007.

“My hope is that this research may assist governments, non-government groups and international agencies to establish policies and strategies to mitigate or prevent further loss of the rhino,” Truong said.

He suggested it might be possible to target high-ranking businessmen and government officials in Vietnam to help discourage the use of rhino horns.

The Mercury