Vietnam can't get enough rhino horn

2012-04-04 12:29

Hanoi - Nguyen Huong Giang loves to party but loathes hangovers, so she ends her whiskey benders by tossing back shots of rhino horn ground with water on a special ceramic plate.

Her father gave her the 10cm brown horn as a gift, claiming it cures everything from headaches to cancer. Vietnam has become so obsessed with the fingernail-like substance it now sells for more than cocaine.

"I don't know how much it costs," said Giang, aged 24, after showing off the horn in her high-rise apartment overlooking the capital, Hanoi. "I only know it's expensive."

Experts say Vietnam's surging demand is threatening to wipe out the world's remaining rhinoceros populations, which recovered from the brink of extinction after the 1970s thanks to conservation campaigns.

Illegal killings in Africa hit the highest recorded level in 2011 and are expected to worsen this year.

This week South Africa called for renewed co-operation with Vietnam after a "shocking number" of rhinos have already been reported dead this year.

Dire situation

China has long valued rhino horn for its purported - though unproven - medicinal properties, but US officials and international wildlife experts now say Vietnam's recent intense craving, blamed partly on a widespread rumour that rhino horn cures cancer, is putting unprecedented pressure on the world's estimated 28 000 remaining animals, mainly in South Africa.

"It's a very dire situation," US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said by telephone. "We have very little cushion for these populations in the wild."

Although data on the global rhino horn trade is scarce, poaching in Africa has soared in the past two years, with American officials saying China and Vietnam are driving the trade that has no "significant" end market in the United States.

Wildlife advocates say that over the last decade, rhino horn has become a must-have luxury item for some Vietnamese nouveau riche, alongside Gucci bags and expensive Maybach cars.

Between 2006 and 2008, three diplomats at the Vietnamese Embassy in Pretoria were linked to embarrassing rhino trafficking scandals - including one caught on tape.

In February, US agents busted an alleged interstate rhino horn trafficking syndicate with Vietnamese-American ringleaders.

Bigger payoffs

According to a court affidavit obtained by The Associated Press, Felix Kha, one of the alleged traffickers arrested in the recent US bust, allegedly travelled to China 12 times between 2004 and 2011 and to Vietnam five times last year.

"There are still horns going into China but Vietnam is driving the increase in poaching for horns," said Chris R Shepherd, deputy regional director for Southeast Asia at the wildlife advocacy group Traffic.

"Vietnamese authorities really need to step up their efforts to find out who is behind horn trafficking ... and put them out of business."

The rhino horn craze offers bigger payoffs than other exotic wildlife products such as bear bile or tiger bone paste.

American officials say the crushed powder fetches up to $55 000 per kilogram in Asia - a price that can top the US street value of cocaine, making the hoof-like substance literally as valuable as gold.

The drive is so great, thieves are now pinching rhino horns from European museums and taxidermy shops, sometimes smashing them off with sledgehammers before fleeing.


According to Europol, the European law enforcement agency, 72 rhino horns were stolen from 15 European countries in 2011, the first year such data was recorded.

Poachers in South Africa are also using chain saws to rip rhinos' horns off, mutilating the hulky animals while they're still alive and leaving oozing bloody cavities in the heads of those lucky enough to survive.

Sometimes, they simply shoot the beasts dead, even though the horns can grow back within two years without harming the animal if carefully cut.

Officials and nonprofits in South Africa are pre-emptively cutting some rhinos' horns in an attempt to save them, but some poachers are killing anyway just for the nubs.

Vietnam wiped out its own last known Javan rhinoceros in 2010, despite the country's earlier efforts to protect it. The last of the population was found dead in a national park, shot through the leg with its horn hacked off.

Tran Dang Trung, who manages a zoo outside Hanoi that imported four white rhinos from South Africa, said he worries for the animals' safety even though the zoo has 24-hour security.

Murky laws

"If thieves wanted to kill the animals and steal their valuable parts, they could," Trung said recently outside the rhinos' basketball court-sized outdoor pen.

Laws in Vietnam surrounding the business of importing horns are murky and crackdowns are rare despite government pledges to root out traffickers.

Officially, no more than 60 horns are legally imported into Vietnam as trophies bagged from South African game farms each year, but international wildlife experts have estimated the actual number of trophy horns taken by Vietnamese nationals from South Africa each year may exceed 100.

Earlier this week, the South African government said it was working with the Vietnamese to stop the potential abuse of hunting permits. Hanoi has also been asked to conduct inspections to make sure rhino trophies imported from South Africa still remain in the hunters' possession.

It's impossible to track how other rhino horns are entering Vietnam, wildlife advocates say, but they point to local media reports suggesting Vietnamese diplomats are implicated in the international trade that's been largely banned since 1976.

In 2006, a diplomat at Vietnam's South African Embassy was arrested for trafficking rhino horn, while another was filmed two years later trading the substance outside the mission's gates.

Killings skyrocketing

A third diplomat was also questioned that same year after 18kg of rhino horn was found in his car outside a casino.

In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Luong Thanh Nghi said those incidents reflected badly upon Vietnam's image, and that the diplomats all faced disciplinary measures.

Meanwhile, illegal rhino killings in South Africa are skyrocketing - from 122 in 2009 to 333 in 2010 and a record 448 in 2011. The country reported last week that 150 rhinos had already been poached this year, nearly 60% taken from Kruger National Park.

In Hanoi, Vietnamese buy rhino horn on the streets of the city's bustling old quarter, where a traditional medicine dealer recently told the AP that the average prescription costs $10.

Hanoi doctors report that some of their clients take the powder as a supplement to western medicines, believing it cures fever and other common ailments. Others use it as a last-ditch effort against cancer.

Nguyen Huu Truong, a doctor at Hanoi's Centre for Allergy Clinical Immunology, said a handful of patients visit him each year complaining of rashes he links to rhino horn consumption.

Fake horns

"Many Vietnamese believe that anything expensive is good, but if you're going to spend a lot of money on rhino horn, you might as well bite your nails," he said. Rhino horns are composed of keratin, a protein found in human hair and fingernails.

Giang, the young Vietnamese woman who regularly uses rhino horn to prevent hangovers, says she's unfazed by doctors' assessments of the substance's efficacy and doesn't care to know how her father acquired the horn.

Experts say some rhino horns passing through Vietnam are fakes, and the AP couldn't verify the authenticity of Giang's horn, which she grinds on a plate with a rough finish made specifically for the task.

She ingests the liquefied form when she has allergic reactions or after tippling on too much top-shelf liquor.

Because Giang only takes rhino horn shots once or twice every three months, she estimates her horn will last another 10 to 15 years. But once her stash is depleted, there may not be any rhinos left on earth to satisfy her craving.

  • christo.stone - 2012-04-04 12:53

    I think we should arrange for rally infront of the Chinese and Vietnamese embassies and give them a memorandom to educate their stupid masses that RHINO HORN HAS NO MEDICAL PROPERTIES!.

      CharlesDumbwin - 2012-04-04 12:56

      Freakin good idea !!! But the ruling party will stop the protest cause they've sold South Africa to China already ...

      Rohin - 2012-04-04 14:27

      there was a rally and candlelight vigil held outside the Chinese embassy last week. There was a grand total of maybe 50 people that rocked up. :-(

      christo.stone - 2012-04-04 15:20

      They should advertise it better then...I didn't know about it =/

      Belinda - 2012-04-09 13:49

      I agree! How does one ago about starting a rally? I live in Durban, South Africa and feel that now is the time we actually do something!!!

      Jaba - 2012-04-10 11:54

      I didn't know about it either. I am part of a group on Facebook as well - and they didn't advertise it. If there is a protest to save our rhino - im there.

  • Albert - 2012-04-04 13:00

    The US should be blamed for this. They could have done a better job when they had the chance. Idealy one should be going to a museum if you want to see a Vietnamese.

      christo.stone - 2012-04-04 13:02

      As bad as that sounds, I can't help but feel the same way.

      CharlesDumbwin - 2012-04-04 13:03

      Geez Albert, that's harsh dude.

      Albert - 2012-04-04 13:10

      Have you ever seen a rhino stumbling around with blood flowing down its face, not on Tv or in a newspaper, but for real? Is that not harsh? I can promise you that you will never understand the level of hatred that you feel towards the people that have done it as well as those who have created and support this market.

      Vernon - 2012-04-04 13:42

      Albert damn dude thats original

      Schmee - 2012-04-04 14:09

      And the cycle of hatred continues.

  • Taryn - 2012-04-04 13:39


  • Lorien - 2012-04-04 13:45

    And the buggers are on a fast track to wiping out all the sharks in the sea too, which is going to have huge after effects. All so that they can have shark fin soup, retards.

  • Grant - 2012-04-04 13:56

    I bet they can't

  • EmperorNemisis - 2012-04-04 14:16

    Science has proven that the genitals of Rhino poachers can cure aids, cancer and has proven reverse aging benefits, especially if taken with the fingernails of a poacher.

      mulalo.makhale - 2012-04-04 15:21


      Jaba - 2012-04-10 12:01

      Like! :)

  • Lindi - 2012-04-04 15:18

    What is it going to take to stop these people from killing all OUR rhino?? They have killed all their own, and now they come to ruin it for the rest of us?????!!!! When are these stupid people going to realize or care that once they are gone, they aint coming back, EVERRRRR!! What makes me so mad is that this is my planet and country too, but I am powerless and have to watch as people and their senseless greed that exceeds all rational understanding ruin it for everybody else! What are they going to use for all their ailments once rhino horn is no more????? What's worse it that they all believe it actually does something for them??!! - Come on south african government, the defence force, or whoever actually has the power to do something here, PLEASE TAKE SOME ACTION. This is one of the reasons I really doubt having any kids at all, because very soon the earth will be a horrible place for them to be - how sad!

      Belinda - 2012-04-09 13:51

      Please follow Kariega Game Reserve rhino story on Facebook. Share it with ALL your friends and spread the word. We have to stand together on this now, before it is too late!!!

  • Sylvia - 2012-04-04 15:41

    What a horrific story!

  • Samuel - 2012-04-04 15:57

    Poaching should carry the death sentence. Point. Humans are such a disgusting species and we deserve to be wiped of this planet. We are the cancer of this planet. If Vietnam is not killing our Rhinos, Japan is killing Dolphins and Whales. Funny how these Asian countries have absolutely no repect for any living thing. One can only hope that another natural disaster kills off more of their population. I also don't get why our government is not doing anything to prevent this. Oh yes, they are too busy buying Mercs and BMW's for themselves!!!!

      Rohin - 2012-04-05 11:57

      does it matter which nation perpetrates the deed? sadly it's not just the asian countries, but being chinese I am so sick and tired of bearing the brunt of the ignorance. In Swedens - fur farms Denmark - killing of whales and dolphins Worldwide - vivisection many of the products/ foods / drugs you and I consume have been tested on animals. Wake up!!! Animal cruelty is right under your nose, stop pointing fingers and spread awareness, not hatred.

      Jaba - 2012-04-10 12:02

      our gov doesn't care. we need to fight this together!

  • charmaine.mcdonald2 - 2012-04-05 11:41

    Idiots! The Rhinos have a right to live and we humans are their voices.

  • eugene.meyer1980 - 2012-04-10 11:04

    It has come to light in recent studies by a unknown source that the hands and feet of Vietnamese and Chinese people can cure AIDS. The hands and feet need to be hacked off from the person while alive, to keep the healing properties. It is not clear why it cures AIDS but it does.

  • Jacqui - 2012-04-10 11:41

    Lot of brainless bastards. Our government are soft on them, throw their Ambassadors out of the country to start with. Mind you forming a cordon around their embassies is a good start.

  • Jacqui - 2012-04-10 11:42

    Rohin, how are people suppose to turn up if no body knows about it?.

  • Gary - 2012-04-14 08:57

    Who's the person that "disliked" this post. You have a better suggestion? I do. Poison the horns!!!! then when these rich little scummy things start dropping like flies the demand won't be there anymore.

  • Robin - 2012-04-23 18:49

    I'll gladly donate ALL my toe- and fingernail clippings to those depraved cerebrally challenged Orientals if it means they will piss off out of Africa and go find some REAL medicine to cure all their imaginary ills.

  • Kobie - 2012-05-14 18:08

    @Charles Dumbwin How do you know if you haven't even tried. Stop making lame excuses. People say they're going to rally or protest in front of the embassies, but you guys never pitched up. Actions speak louder than words.

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