‘It’s better to buy a BMW than rhino horn’

2014-09-14 06:00

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When a delegation from Vietnam arrived in South Africa on Monday, the rhino bull grazing near the border of the Kruger Park just west of Pretoriuskop was still alive.

Four days later, the delegation witnessed a bush autopsy on what remained of the animal.

Nhung Hong, one of Vietnam’s most famous singers, could hardly hold back her emotions as South African National Park officials hacked at the carcass.

Biting back her tears, she appealed to the Vietnamese public back home.

“This is wrong,” she exclaimed. “How can they kill this beautiful creature?”

Vietnamese animal activist Queyen Vu believes that a celebrity such as Hong has the influence to start the much-needed boycott against rhino horn in Vietnam.

Vu, who has been campaigning against the use of rhino horn for the past couple of years in Vietnam, saw her first rhino carcass on Friday.

“I’m shocked and disgusted,” she said, tears flowing.

Most of South Africa’s rhino horn ends up in the hands of Vietnam’s rich.

In Hanoi, rhino horn represents super bling. But on Friday there was nothing glamorous about the stench of death that hung over the crime scene.

Vu and Hong are part of a Vietnamese delegation of customs officials, celebrities, journalists and environmental activists campaigning for South Africa’s rhinos in Vietnam.

Vu said it was the social status rhino horn afforded its users that made it so popular in her home country.

It is only the most affluent who are able to afford rhino horn, which sells almost at thrice the price of gold.

“You are showing off your success if you use it,” said Vu. “For most of the Vietnamese people, rhino horn is way above their pay grade.”

She said as people in Vietnam become wealthier, they want to find a way to brag about it. Using rhino horn is a popular way to do just that.

Hong is hugely popular with the demographic group most likely to use rhino horn. Other celebrities such as Vietnamese Idols judge Quyhn Dang and tourism promoter Mai Nguyen are also doing their bit to change attitudes.

“You have to show people that it is better to buy a BMW or stay in an expensive hotel to display your wealth,” Vu said.

The celebrities have also tried to start a rhino selfie craze, where Vietnamese have to post creative selfies showing their support against rhino horn.

Vu said some used rhino horn as medicine in a last ditch effort to save their loved ones.

However, in a series of documentaries, investigative journalist Hoang Do tracked sick Vietnamese who turned to rhino horn and showed that it had absolutely no effect.

But winning the hearts and minds of the people is not enough, customs official Anh Nguyen said. There also have to be consequences.

Vietnam has produced a draft bill upping the minimum sentence for rhino horn smuggling to 15 years.

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