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Viet Nam fights to stop medical rhino horn myth

Update: August, 28/2013 - 08:58
A trafficker with two rhino horns weighing nearly 7.3 kilos was arrested in HCM City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport in May. — VNA Photo

HA NOI (VNS)— A long-term public awareness campaign aimed at reducing demand for rhinocerous horn among the community was launched yesterday.

The campaign will work with key stakeholders such as women's groups, business leaders, students and traditional and Western medicine practitioners to inform Vietnamese that the horns are not a sex stimulant - or a cure for cancer.

It is reported that more than 580 rhinos have died at the hands of poachers in South Africa this year, the country with the world's largest population of the animal. Many of the horns end up in East Asia, particularly China and Viet Nam (Viet Nam's last rhinocerous was killed by poachers two years ago).

Myths about the properties of rhino horn include that it is a cure for cancer or reduces fevers. Some people take it as an antidote for hangovers. Others value it as a high-end gift or status symbol.

Studies have shown that the horns have no medical properties and is only composed of keratin, the same material that makes hair and nails, said William Fowlds, a South African wildlife veterinarian who has treated the appalling wounds of rhinos whose horns have been hacked from their heads.

Furthermore, in attempts to thwart poaching, some rhino horn was being treated with chemicals harmful to human health, he added.

Demand for rhino horn in Viet Nam has already declined thanks to Government's efforts in raising public awareness and preventing smuggling operations, said Do Quang Tung, the Viet Nam director of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) .

As a result, the price of each gramme of rhino dropped from VND120 million (US$5,700) in 2010 to VND60 million ($2,800) at present.

Deputy General Director of Viet Nam's Forestry Administration Vo Dai Hai said that after belonging to CITES for 20 years, Viet Nam had followed its international commitments with a comprehensive legal system on preserving, managing and controlling wildlife trade. He said there was also a punishment mechanism.

He claimed that Viet Nam had discovered and seized a large number of endangered species being smuggled in from other continents. For example, it had so far seized 25 tonnes of elephant tusks and discovered nearly 20 cases of rhino horn smuggling.

Since 2008 to August this year, the customs sector detected 13 cases of rhino horn being smuggled. It had a total weight of 121.5 kilos.

Viet Nam has worked with South Africa to deal with rhino horn poaching. Governments of the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on increasing co-operation in biodiversity protection and conservation in Ha Noi in December last year.

The two sides signed an action plan to implement this memorandum recently, focusing on fighting against smuggling of rhino products, Hai said.

However, a representative from the Viet Nam Customs General Department said Viet Nam faced challenges in preventing rhino horn smuggling because of the differences in the laws of the two countries.

Teresa Telecky, director of the Wildlife Department of the animal-welfare organisation Humane Society International said reducing demand for the horn in Viet Nam would cut off a marketplace for criminal networks. — VNS

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