The real rhino magic potion

2014-04-12 00:00

TWO Vietnamese celebrities whose friends and fans routinely use poached rhino horn “medicine” are experiencing the “real magic potion” of rhinos on a wilderness trail today.

In a novel effort to convince Vietnamese consumers that the true value of rhinos does not lie in potions from their horns, pop stars Thu Minh and Thanh Bui will spend the weekend on trail within a non-tourist, “wilderness” area of Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape.

And their Durban guide told Weekend Witness the stars would “not be crowded” — and that the rhinos and their wild habitat would be left to do the convincing themselves.

Andrew Muir, CEO of the Wilderness Foundation, revealed that Thu — Vietnam’s “queen of dance pop” — and TV star Thanh would also join a mission to tranquillise a rhino for an anti-poaching DNA tag. It will be near the spot on a wilderness trail where Tiger Woods proposed to Elin Nordegren in 2003.

“They will touch and feel the animal themselves. Once you’ve seen rhinos in the wild and had intimate contact with them, you never look at them the same way again,” he said.

“Thu Minh told me some of her own friends, who she describes as good people from wealthy backgrounds, regularly buy sachets of rhino horn as a traditional medicine that they are told works. She said: ‘Give me the facts that prove it isn’t true, and show me how [rhinos] live, and I will talk them out of it, and I will spread the message on TV.”

In total 1 004 white rhino were killed for their horns in South Africa last year, and Vietnam is one of the primary markets for powdered rhino horn.

Yesterday, Dr Ian Player, founder of the global wilderness conservation movement, said a new report showed that 276 rhino had been killed so far this year in South Africa.

Muir said Wild Aid, an Asian charity that recently produced an anti-poaching video with Prince William and Jackie Chan, would produce media from Shamwari for billboards and TV channels in Vietnam.

“Obviously, the filming will be done with minimum impact on the environment, and there will be no journalists on the trail,” said Muir. “I think it will have a significant impact on demand. A lot of people think they have the solution to rhino poaching — whether it’s de-horning or injecting poison or many other things — but the fact is that only a holistic approach will be successful, and that must include reducing demand.”

However, Player — who is Muir’s mentor — was sceptical about the impact. “Look, it will help, but I don’t know if it will change things much on its own.”

Muir said the weekend represented the first in a campaign to get influential citizens from China, Vietnam and elsewhere in the Far East to experience rhinos in the wild, or participate in the foundation’s five-day primitive wilderness trails.

The most famous of these are held in a 13 000 hectare wilderness area within the Mfolozi Game Reserve, in which half-a-dozen trailists and armed guides wander among the big five, sleeping in the open with as little as possible from the modern world. Triggered by the World Wilderness Congress founded by Player, legislation in 26 countries gives special protection to wilderness areas, including no-fly-zones above the areas.

More than 100 000 people have walked in South Africa’s 28 wilderness areas, including 100 victims and former rival combatants of the Northern Ireland conflict who had to rely on each other during night “fire watch” vigils and other rituals on Mfolozi trails.

This week, Muir, a former SA Conservationist of the Year, received an honorary doctorate by UKZN. “It was a huge honour, and a valuable recognition for wilderness.”

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