Written by: Vanessa Wiesenmaier
Eight months after we set off on our expedition, Vicky and I are proud to say that we have achieved our goal of cycling 6,000 kilometres across Southeast Asia, all to create awareness about the plight of the rhino. This epic journey took us through eight countries, starting in Hong Kong, crossing through China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, and finally finishing in Singapore. On 9th December we were ecstatic to safely land back home in Cape Town. The absolute highlight was our clean, comfortable beds, and to happily leave behind some irritating bed bugs!
So you might ask why this trip and why exactly these countries? The whole journey was about raising awareness about the rhino poaching crisis. As South Africans we have been following the news over the years and were horrified to watch the rhino killings drastically increase since 2007. We started thinking about what we could do, and how we could get involved to help the survival of this iconic, prehistoric mammal.
Once we started reading more about this topic, trying to get to the root of the issue, we learnt that China and Vietnam are the biggest consumer markets of rhino horn. So the plan was hatched to cycle through these countries, speak at schools and focus on demand reduction, spreading our Buy No Rhino message.
We linked up with the South African organisation, Project Rhino KZN, which partnered with the Kingsley Holgate Foundation to start the Rhino Art Project. The objective of the project is to gather the largest number of ‘Children’s Art Voices’ ever recorded in support of rhino protection. These ‘Hearts and Minds’ messages from the children are then used as a worldwide call to action against rhino poaching. Along our route we visited schools to implement this art project, as well as do educational talks about rhinos.
You might be unsure as to why we chose to address this issue with children rather than target the end consumer, who is generally a wealthy, urban Vietnamese or Chinese businessman. As two western girls we felt that it was not very easy to reach this audience, or successfully change deep-seated belief systems if we did. However, children can put pressure on their parents and have a substantially higher success rate in creating a paradigm shift.
Allegedly 80% of the rhino horn demand is from Vietnam. Three months out of our entire trip were, therefore, spent in this country focusing on reaching as many international schools as possible. These schools are rather expensive, costing between US$24,000-36,000 per annum. Needless to say the affluent parents send their children to these schools, and these were exactly the kids we wanted to reach with our Buy No Rhino campaign.
What was really encouraging was to see how open and hungry for information the kids were. We found that the young generation does not want to be part of this crime against the rhino. During our school visits it was common that children ashamedly admitted that their parents were using rhino horn.
Time is fast running out for the rhinos. To succeed in curbing the demand of rhino horn, it is key to educate the youth. It’s absolutely crucial that the use of rhino horn becomes socially unacceptable in Vietnam and China. This can only happen through more education and awareness campaigns, as well as increased international pressure and pressure from within the countries themselves.
Braam Malherbe, with his DOT campaign – Do One Thing, inspired us immensely and motivated us to start this journey. His message is very powerful, and the beauty of it lies in its simplicity. You don’t have to be a famous, influential person or a well-known eco warrior to make a positive impact on the planet. Instead we can all get involved! Focus on a small thing that you are passionate about, and bring about change bit by bit. Our project started with an idea and then became reality. In the end we shared our message with over 6,500 children, and we believe that we have had a substantial impact in their lives, which will hopefully bring us closer to ensure the survival of the rhino.
To find out more about our trip check out our Facebook page – Buy No Rhino. And watch this short documentary about our journey that the international NGO, Freeland, created: