Stu­dent tackles rhi­no horn tra­de

Mossel Bay Advertiser - - Voorblad - Cor­nel­le Car­stens

Wor­ld Rhi­no Day was ce­le­bra­ted last Sa­tur­day, Sep­tem­ber 22. T­his ce­le­bra­tes all fi­ve spe­cies of rhi­no: black, whi­te, gre­a­ter one-hor­ned, Su­ma­tran and Ja­van rhi­nos.

It was first an­noun­ced by WWF-South A­fri­ca in 2010, but the fol­lo­wing y­e­ar, Wor­ld Rhi­no Day grew in­to an in­ter­na­ti­o­nal success, en­com­pas­sing both A­fri­can and A­si­an rhi­no spe­cies, thanks to the ef­forts of two de­ter­mi­ned wo­men - Li­sa Ja­ne Camp­bell of Zim­bab­we and R­hishja Lar­son.

Me­a­gan S­pies, who grew up in Oudst­hoorn, but w­ho­se pa­rents li­ve in Mos­sel Bay, is doing her own ground­b­re­a­king work to­wards the con­ser­va­ti­on of t­his highly en­dan­ge­red spe­cies. The Mos­sel Bay Ad­ver­ti­ser as­ked Me­a­gan, who is cur­rent­ly con­tinuing her stu­dies in Viet­nam, a­bout the na­tu­re of her work.

Me­a­gan com­ple­ted her un­der­gra­du­te stu­dies at the U­ni­ver­si­ty of Ca­pe To­wn and her ho­nours at the U­ni­ver­si­ty of South A­fri­ca, through which she is al­so wor­king on her mas­ters de­gree.

1. How did it co­me a­bout that you cho­se your field of stu­dy?

I cho­se en­vi­ron­men­tal ma­na­ge­ment sin­ce it is a field that re­so­na­tes with me. Whi­le I was li­ving in Viet­nam, I felt that I was in a u­ni­que si­tu­a­ti­on, being from South A­fri­ca on the one hand, the sour­ce of rhi­no horn and li­ving in the coun­try with the hig­hest de­mand in rhi­no, on the ot­her hand to do mo­re re­se­arch.

2. Tell us mo­re a­bout your re­se­arch?

I star­ted doing mo­re re­se­arch on the rhi­no horn tra­de be­t­ween South A­fri­ca and Viet­nam and cho­se to do my the­sis on The a­wa­re­ness of Viet­na­me­se U­ni­ver­si­ty Stu­dents of the rhi­no horn tra­de be­t­ween South A­fri­ca and Viet­nam. Sin­ce the rhi­no horn tra­de is a re­la­ti­ve­ly new is­sue, the­re isn't any re­se­arch a­vai­la­ble on t­his spe­ci­fic re­se­arch que­s­ti­on. I de­ci­ded to fo­cus on t­his sin­ce 98% of rhi­no horn con­su­mers in Viet­nam ha­ve at le­ast a ba­chel­or's de­gree the­re­fo­re cur­rent u­ni­ver­si­ty stu­dents are the next po­ten­ti­al u­sers. If mo­re re­le­vant in­for­ma­ti­on is a­vai­la­ble on how Viet­na­me­se u­ni­ver­si­ty stu­dents per­cei­ve the tra­de it is pos­si­ble to in­tro­du­ce accu­ra­te in­for­ma­ti­on in­to re­le­vant cur­ri­cu­lae and ha­ve mo­re cam­paigns at u­ni­ver­si­ties.

3. Gi­ve us a back­ground pic­tu­re of the rhi­no in the con­text of South A­fri­ca and Viet­nam?

The rhi­no­ce­ro­ti­dae which is con­si­de­red the mo­dern day rhi­no fa­mi­ly has ex­is­ted sin­ce the la­te Eo­ce­ne, which is roughly 35 mil­li­on y­e­ars ago. Ma­ny spe­cies ha­ve be­co­me ex­tinct and on­ly fi­ve rhi­no spe­cies re­main to­day. South A­fri­ca, is ho­me to ap­prox­i­ma­te­ly 90 per­cent of the wor­ld’s re­mai­ning rhi­nos. Ho­we­ver, t­his po­pu­la­ti­on is cur­rent­ly at risk of ex­tincti­on due to the ra­pid in­cre­a­se in de­mand of the rhi­no horn in Viet­nam and re­sul­tant in­cre­a­sed po­a­ching of the rhi­no in South A­fri­ca.

4. Are the­re any com­plex­i­ties re­gar­ding the tra­de?

Yes, the is­sue re­gar­ding the rhi­no horn tra­de is very com­plex. Cur­rent­ly, ap­prox­i­ma­te­ly 1 000 rhi­nos are kil­led e­very y­e­ar in South A­fri­ca com­pa­red to the pre­vi­ous a­vera­ge of 15 be­t­ween 1980 and 2007. The rhi­no horn tra­de is com­plex in na­tu­re and is in­ter­con­nected with po­ver­ty in South A­fri­ca as well as a lu­cra­ti­ve in­du­stry for c­ri­me syn­di­ca­tes, which of­ten ma­ke so­lu­ti­ons seem u­nat­tai­na­ble. Viet­nam has been i­den­ti­fied as the num­ber one end u­ser mar­ket for rhi­no horn (with 80% of rhi­no horn en­ding up in Viet­nam).

The pri­ma­ry con­su­mers ha­ve been i­den­ti­fied as the rich, po­wer­ful and e­du­ca­ted Viet­na­me­se be­t­ween the a­ges of 35 and 50. One of the ma­jor re­a­sons for con­su­ming rhi­no horn is to s­how sta­tus or pres­ti­ge. T­his may of­ten seem lu­di­crous to say the le­ast, but it is of­ten u­sed as a sub­stan­ce at high-end gat­her­ings or par­ties.

It is ground up and mixed with wa­ter and then drunk. Es­sen­ti­al­ly it is sho­wing that if you at­ten­ded a par­ty w­he­re rhi­no horn is con­su­med, you are an im­por­tant per­son or e­ven mo­re so if you ha­ve sup­p­lied or broug­ht it. Sin­ce the Viet­na­me­se e­co­nomy is con­tinuing to grow, with a gro­wing midd­le and up­per class, it ma­kes so­lu­ti­ons chal­len­ging. Whi­le doing my re­se­arch, I ha­ve on se­ver­al oc­ca­si­ons co­me a­cross pe­op­le who ca­su­al­ly men­ti­o­ned that they ha­ve rhi­no horn at their ho­me or ha­ve u­sed rhi­no horn. E­ven du­ring the­se ca­ses, it was found that the u­sers or o­w­ners of rhi­no horn didn't know that Viet­nam is the lar­ge­st cul­prit in the tra­de. Furt­her­mo­re, sin­ce the rhi­no horn tra­de is con­trol­led by c­ri­me syn­di­ca­tes, it in­vol­ves a sen­se of dan­ger for tho­se who are in­vol­ved in trying to stop the tra­de.

5. W­hat are you see­king to a­chie­ve through your re­se­arch?

Es­sen­ti­al­ly the go­al is to be part of mi­ni­mi­sing or ul­ti­ma­te­ly il­lu­mi­na­ting the po­a­ching of rhi­nos in South A­fri­ca for the very un­ne­ces­sa­ry tra­de of rhi­no horn.

I will be look­ing at joi­ning or col­la­bo­ra­ting with pro­jects or com­pa­nies with si­mi­lar go­als. I am ho­ping to be part of cam­paigns, par­ti­cu­lar­ly at U­ni­ver­si­ties that pro­vi­de in­for­ma­ti­on on the tra­de and the ef­fect that Viet­nam has on the ex­is­ten­ce of rhi­nos in South A­fri­ca.

6. How ef­fecti­ve do you feel a­wa­re­ness pro­gram­mes are, such as Wor­ld Rhi­no Day? W­hat could be do­ne to im­pro­ve a­wa­re­ness?

Of cour­se any form of a­wa­re­ness on t­his is­sue is im­por­tant and one ho­pes that at the end of the day, it al­lows for chan­ge.

I ha­ve found that t­his of­ten isn't as ef­fecti­ve­ly bro­ad­cast in the coun­tries w­he­re the de­mand ta­kes pla­ce such as in Viet­nam.

The­re is a lot of mo­ney in­vol­ved with t­his il­le­gal tra­de of rhi­no horn (w­he­re rhi­no horn can fe­tch up to US$100/kg which is a­bout R140 000/kg).

W­hen such lar­ge a­mounts of mo­ney is in­vol­ved and the­re is a high de­mand for a "pro­duct" it is al­most in­e­vi­ta­ble for c­ri­me syn­di­ca­tes to ta­ke ad­van­ta­ge of t­his. The­re­fo­re, dras­tic i­ni­ti­a­ti­ves and cam­paigns should be ta­king pla­ce in Viet­nam.

* Me­a­gan re­turns ho­me to Mos­sel Bay on­ce a y­e­ar.

Me­a­gan S­pies is bu­sy with her mas­ters de­gree.

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