Published 24 May 2011


Lid lifted on Vietnamese rhino horn trade

Rhino horn openly on sale in Ha Noi markets

May 2011—A hard-hitting documentary hosted by Dan Rather screened this April on HDNet television in the USA and Canada revealed the extent of the rhino horn trade to Viet Nam and how it is fuelling a rhino poaching crisis in southern Africa. 

In the above advance clip of the broadcast, Tom Milliken, Director of TRAFFIC’s East and Southern Africa programme explains how a widely circulating “urban myth” about a senior politician supposedly cured of cancer using rhino horn stands behind an escalating slaughter of the species in Africa. 

“There is a story in Viet Nam—it’s widely told that a former prime minister was dying of liver cancer, he took rhino horn and was cured,” says Milliken. 

“Now, we are trying to put a face and a name to the story, but no matter where we query—government, individuals—we're not able to get to the bottom of it.” 

Despite the lack of substance to the story, untold numbers of Vietnamese have been misled into buying rhino horn, spending huge sums of money on the powdered horn in the mistaken belief it has the ability to cure cancer. 

As Milliken points out: “in the traditional literature going back centuries in Asia, rhino horn was used to reduce fever. It’s not going to cure you of lung cancer.”

In one sequence, the film crew enters a traditional medicine shop in Viet Nam where they ask about the availability of rhino horn, whereupon the attendant produces a horn from under the counter and explains “that the people who buy it will grind it and drink it.”

“Rhinoceros horn is a type of medicine that is valuable. Sometimes I offer it but only wealthy can use it,” the vendor adds. 

“To willingly show banned wildlife goods to a camera crew indicates a serious disregard for the law and a total lack of law enforcement pressure on Viet Nam’s retail markets,” says Milliken. 

In another clip, Milliken explains how abuse of rhino trophy hunting quotas in South Africa by Vietnamese visitors led to strict revisions in the country’s law. 

Between 2000 and 2007, South Africa averaged about 12 rhino poached each year. In 2008, the figure reached 78, and by 2010 it was an unprecedented 333. Already this year, more than 80 rhino have been poached. 

In October 2010, TRAFFIC facilitated a mission of South African law enforcement officers to Viet Nam for high-level discussions on growing rhino crime issues. 

“Collaborative law enforcement action is needed in both source and consumer countries,” says Milliken. 

“The fact that rhino horn remains readily available in Ha Noi markets means that the Vietnamese authorities are not doing their part to stop the trafficking in endangered species products.”

TRAFFIC’s work on rhino poaching has been funded by the Mackenzie Foundation, the US Government and WWF. 

The Dan Rather Reports “Horn of Africa” aired on Tuesday 19th April at 8 pm and 11 pm Eastern Standard Time in the USA and Canada on HDNet.