Years ago, in the 90’s, my father worked for a venerable old law partnership in Pretoria. In the middle of the 90’s, the Bond film Goldeneye came out. I don’t remember it particularly well, but I do remember one thing standing out. Bond’s car. The BMW Z3. It was low, and sleek, and mean looking. It had gills like a shark. It was cool. That wasn’t just my opinion. Half of my father’s partnership rushed out and bought them. They didn’t really need them; they were too small for family men, and they were a little on the flashy side for Pretoria lawyers, but they stood out. They made a statement. The wrong statement, as it turned out.
The war on rhino poaching has been going on long enough for us to have realised that we are never going to stop poaching by stopping the poachers. They are foot soldiers. Cannon fodder. Expendable. Take out every single one of them today and by next week they will have been replaced.
And so those of us who want the rhinos to stick around long enough for our grandchildren to see them have grabbed hold of another idea and are clinging to it desperately; if we can just take down the guys at the top, we can stop this. No. We can’t. Not like that.
Ask the guys who have tried to stop the drug trade. You can wipe out all the drug cartels, but as long as there are junkies wandering the streets waving wads of cash around, someone will step in and take their place. In the bigger scheme of things, drug lords are as expendable to a junkie as the pusher hanging around behind the nightclub. And as replaceable.
Ask the guys who have tried to stamp out prostitution. You can close all the brothels and lock up all the pimps, but as long as there are sad, lonely men wandering the streets waving wads of cash around, someone will step in to take their place. They, too are expendable.
Which leaves us with just one more chance at victory. We can take on the users. The consumers. This is fantastic news.
Taking on drug addicts is a nightmare. They will go to any lengths to get their fix. They will lie, and cheat and steal, from even their closest loved ones. They will prostitute themselves and pimp out their children. Their drugs are as important to them as breathing.
It’s the same story when you try to take on the users of prostitutes. Sex is a drive. A hunger. We are compelled to seek it out like we are compelled to seek out food. Whatever it is these men are getting from the women whose bodies they hire, they’ve been seeking it out for hundreds of thousands of years, and no-one has ever succeeded in stopping them.
And rhino horn? Well, it simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t do anything. No one is stalking the streets of some oriental city as we speak, eyes hollow, teeth blackened and chipped, body racked by tremors and veins calling out for another fix of rhino horn. No one is sitting alone staring off out of a window in a haze of loneliness and need, wondering if just one more visit to the rhino horn dealer will fill the vast empty space inside them. We simply don’t have a rhino horn drive.
Which means we can take on the consumers and beat them. By laughing at them.
I was a child, we were told that rhino horn buyers used it as an aphrodisiac. Then we decided that they thought it reduced fever. Now we hear that it is believed to fight cancer. But the other day, for the first time, I heard an explanation for the demand for rhino horn that really made sense. Status.
I had always imagined rhino horn users as being ignorant, superstitious peasants. But that doesn’t make any sense. The stuff must be hellishly expensive by the time it reaches consumers. Supply is severely limited. Procurement, transport, and distribution are dangerous, complicated and illegal. By the time this stuff reaches its market, it must make caviar or truffles seem like bubble-gum. And so, by all reports, people have been buying rhino horn for the same reason people buy caviar and truffles. To look rich.
The people who buy rhino horn are the same kind of people who buy Breitling watches and Mont Blanc pens. They are the people who drive Bugattis and spend their holidays on luxury yachts. They are the people who want to show off their money. It doesn’t matter whether they think rhino horn works or not. What matters is that they can show others that they can afford it.
Excellent. If people are buying rhino horn to look cool, all we have to do is laugh at them until they don’t look cool anymore. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it can be done. Which brings me back to those BMW Z3s. Those guys loved their Z3s. I would pop into my dad’s work every once in a while and see them zipping around the parking lot looking for all the world as if they were international superspies themselves, rather than middle-aged lawyers. And then something odd happened. Someone, somewhere, decided that the Z3 was “a gay car”. Yup. That’s actually a thing. You can Google it.
Word got out. And within less than a month, there were no more Z3s in my dad’s parking lot. I don’t think they were homophobic or anything. “Super gay” just wasn’t the message they wanted to send out to the world.
And that’s how we should be fighting the rhino horn trade. We should be subverting the message they are trying to send out. We should be laughing at their haircuts and questioning the size of their genitalia. We should be putting up billboards implying that those who take rhino horn are ignorant hicks who might have some money but who will never have any class. We should be poking fun at them as if their belief in rhino horn was the same as believing in the Easter bunny.
We should do everything we can to remind rhino horn buyers that what they are doing is the equivalent of putting on an enormous novelty sombrero with the words “I’m a stupid dick” written across the front in flashing lights.
If we can get that right, we don’t have to worry about the poachers. We don’t have to worry about the middle men or the top dogs. It’s quite hard to maintain an illicit trade network if the response of your target market is “No thank you. I’ve decided not to be a stupid dick anymore.”
They’ll soon have to close up shop and move onto something else. I hear lion bones are set to be the next big thing.
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