In 2013, sadly the most popular Christmas gift in Vietnam was rhino horn. The use of horn, as well as other rare animal products is deeply embedded in Vietnamese culture, and is a current trend of a luxury item within the country’s elite.
Vietnam has the tragic distinction of being the country MOST responsible for the growing demand for rhino horn. The majority of consumers are mid to upper income males, conforming to the egotistical social pressures of ‘the rarer the product, the more “valuable” or “cool” it is to have.’
Knowing the market, and being an influential businessman, Richard Branson has become an advocate and voice in the fight against horn use in the country. In September, he spent an evening in Ho Chi Minh City with the country’s elite.
“Listening to 25 of the country’s leading entrepreneurs around the table, I quickly learned how much the issue has already become part of a national conversation – one that has caused great embarrassment for a country of 90 million people that is rapidly entering the global market. But change is difficult to come by, stifled by a lack of interest in conservation issues and also by insufficient enforcement. On the upside, as I learned over dinner, younger Vietnamese seem to understand the seriousness of the problem and no longer wish to be associated with these harmful habits.” -Richard Branson
Yet according to a survey of Vietnamese youth (15-40), conducted by our Rhino Alliance partners, WildAct, there is little understanding of animal welfare. Despite the conservation education campaigns that have been introduced, there are a great deal of Vietnamese youth still wanting to own wildlife products.
It is difficult to obtain true numbers indicating actual growth or decline in usage, but the number of poached rhinos this year is at an all time high, with at least 1500 poached in 2015.
Wildlife consumption and use is a social event in the country. It is a matter of changing tradition and trends. To better understand the difficulty of this, imagine if turkeys became endangered; could we convince people to stop consuming them every November?
In the meantime, how many rhino horns will be gifted this Christmas? How much longer can they sustain the slaughter and demand?
The silver lining is that in WildAct’s survery, nearly 98% of the youth agree the government should do more for wildlife conservation. Continued education and empowering the youth is the key to curbing the demand.