Vietnam to dispel rhino horn myths

A meeting between Vietnamese and South African government delegations in Johannesburg this week revealed that the Vietnamese were completely unaware of the scale of the horn-smuggling racket on its soil, a senior South African government official said after the encounter.

The Vietnamese had even cited statistics showing that illegal ­trafficking in rhino horn in Vietnam was decreasing, said South Africa’s deputy director general of biodiversity and conservation in the department of water and environmental affairs, Fundisile Mketeni.

Last week the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) revealed that South Africa had lost 297 rhinos to poachers this year. Of the 165 people arrested in connection with the crime, many were Vietnamese nationals.

Last month a South African magistrate sentenced two Vietnamese citizens to eight and 12 years in prison, respectively, for attempting to smuggle rhino horn out of the country.
Vietnam’s deafening silence on the issue has drawn strong criticism from conservation bodies. Traffic, an international wildlife-trade monitoring network, is deeply concerned about the role of Vietnamese nationals in driving the illegal ­selling of horns. The network sponsored this week’s meeting between South Africa and Vietnam.

The role of Vietnamese crime syndicates in the poaching scourge came under the spotlight in “robust” discussions, as did bilateral co-operation in catching the gangsters, said Mketeni.

“We’re now sharing information. South Africa had its own statistics and this correlated with those of Traffic.” By contrast, Vietnam’s statistics indicated that the trade in rhino horn had declined. “Now that we’ve had the discussions and shared information, the Vietnamese are much more aware of what is going on.”

At a press briefing after the meeting, the five-person Vietnamese delegation said it was important to share information and resources, especially the intelligence needed to combat poaching.

The monitoring the movement
One of the suggestions at the meeting, Mketeni said, was that all Vietnamese hunters should register with Vietnam authorities before they came to South Africa for trophy hunting. This would better equip authorities to monitor the movement of horn.

“Vietnam said it complied with Cites [the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora], but South Africa said that is not enough. They have to do more to eradicate crime.”

At the same time, Mketeni said, it was important not to point fingers at the Vietnamese and create animosity. “We want to work together, but they have to deal with the culprits in their country.”

One of the major issues raised was the false idea that preparations made from rhino horn could cure cancer and treat other illnesses. The five Vietnamese delegates denied that they believed in this myth.

But Nguyen Truy Kien, a councillor in the Vietnamese government, said that his government would have to conduct medical tests to show the Vietnamese people that horn did not have curative properties.

“This is the Oriental experience founded a thousand years ago. It cannot change overnight. We have to convince the people through our own research that the horn means nothing.”
He said a campaign would be run in Vietnam to change people’s attitudes.

Traffic spokesperson Tom Milliken said crime syndicates were making false claims that the relatives of ­politicians and some celebrities had been cured of dread diseases using rhino horn.

“But once you follow up it emerges that no politician or celebrity ever made that claim. It’s just a powerful marketing tool.”

Milliken said that Traffic’s research showed that Vietnam was the hot spot for rhino trading and that 171 Vietnamese had applied for permits last year to hunt rhinos in South Africa.

Horn was now being moved in the same way as narcotics, he said, with the same criminal elements involved, and Vietnam and South African both had to play their part in exposing the syndicates.

“People, rangers, are losing their lives. Yet wildlife smuggling is not seen at the highest political level as the same problem as that of smuggling drugs. We are only now catching up,” Milliken said.

The next step would be a meeting with China, because there was ­evidence that Vietnamese were smuggling horn over the border to its giant neighbour.

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