Buy No Rhino is an awareness campaign created by sisters, Vicky and Ness, who are currently cycling across Asia in the name of rhinos. The last time we caught up with the Buy No Rhino team they had crossed over into China, heading west along the coastline towards Vietnam to continue spreading the word about the plight of the rhino where it matters most.
In China, Vicky and Ness saw first hand how the world is transforming into a throw-away culture. Plastic is a massive problem; the people use it for everything and since they do not have proper landfills or recycling facilities, it seems most plastic is just burnt, resulting in terrible air pollution. It seemed to them that most Chinese are really unaware of this problem and don’t think about the consequences. Speaking to one young man who had a degree in environmental affairs and water management, he mentioned that most people are very short sighted, don’t care about the environment and would only do something if the government imposes stricter laws and penalties.
As far as food is concerned, they have discovered many an unusual delicacy, including shark fin which is definitely on the specialty list and which they have seen a lot of. To their shock they have also have come across loads of sea horses for sale – going for about R1,700 a small packet. In Chinese culture the seahorse is believed to cure impotency and asthma, lower cholesterol, and prevent arteriosclerosis as well as enhance virility.
In Vietnam Vicky and Ness made their way down the north coast. While strolling around Cat Ba Island they came across a stall displaying lots of animals in jars – starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumber, dried sea horses and dried snakes and even geckos.
While they watched, aghast, a gecko was taken out of the cage and snip, snip – while it was still alive – its feet were cut off! Then another snip – belly open! The intestines were grabbed and ripped out. The animals were all stuffed into a huge jar, many still alive or rather semi-alive, some with bits and pieces cut off or intestines taken out. Then rice wine was added. It was explained that this drink is an old Vietnamese tradition, “for men to be stronger for sex – for old men.” They tried to talk to the owner, conveying their message about his treatment of the animals but as soon as he realised that they were being critical, he retreated, saying “No speak English!” They left the vendor feeling quite dismal, contemplating how old traditions can be overcome and how each individual can be the voice for change.
In Vietnam they found that most people know about rhino horn and are conscious that it is being used in their country as medicine. Most say, “Oh, VERY expensive and used by rich people in big cities”. However they have found that many young Vietnamese are ashamed of what is happening, want a different future for their country and are keen for change. This was also demonstrated by this message that was posted to their Facebook page by Linh Ngân: “Dear Vicky and Vanessa….. I just want to say sorry, as a Vietnamese young person, to all of you. I really admire what you’ve been doing for your country. It’s really impressive. I wrote an article calling to share and support your campaign as well. I hope that we, together, keep believing in changes in future. Wish your campain become wider. Thank you a lot.”
They were invited to the US Embassay in Hanoi to talk to students about rhino poaching and what can be done to stop the trade and use of rhino horn. It was suggested by the students that the government of Vietnam should invest more in education and awareness about the rhino issue, as well as enforce the already existing laws. For the students it was important that information campaigns are run in their own language. This would increase the effectiveness and reach of the message.
They also had the opportunity to visit the offices of Education for Nature – Vietnam (ENV)and met a young, highly motivated and dedicated team. ENV is one of the first Vietnamese-led initiatives to address wildlife topics. ENV’s activities are diverse and include the operation of a toll-free National Wildlife Crime Hotline to enable public reporting of crimes, the creation of a Wildlife Crime Unit which supports and strengthens law enforcement, a policy and legislation program which aims to close legal loopholes and advocate effective government policy as well as the creation of extensive public awareness and mobilisation campaigns. One of their innovative approaches is the nation-wide ENV Volunteer Network. The volunteers are the eyes and ears out in the field – they monitor businesses in their home area, report on wildlife crime and encourage others to get involved.
The girls then visited TRAFFIC in Hanoi. TRAFFIC has designed an anti-horn poster campaign with a difference. The posters do not feature any picture of a rhino, they don’t mention the word “rhino horn” and there are no logos from NGOs or conservation groups. Instead they appeal to the Chi (the life force/strength) that each man has within himself. To be a successful businessman, accepted by your peers, you do not need any horn.
Then came a visit to a Vietnamese craft village with a local animal welfare NGO. The village is set in between rice fields about 30km outside of Hanoi. It used to be well known for its wood carvings, but in recent years has concentrated on the more lucrative business of trading wildlife products such as rhino horn, ivory, buffalo horn and tortoise shell. There is one street lined with shops. As if it was the most normal thing in the world, one shop attendant showed Vicky and Ness some bracelets that she told them were made of rhino horn and cheaper rhino horn shavings used for medicinal purposes. A gram costs US$83 and the bangle weighed in at 25g. The attendant explained that most of her customers are wealthy Chinese tourists.
After that the girls paid a visit to the Boa Son Paradise Park in Hanoi. The facility is owned by a wealthy property guru and is home to white rhinos, zebras, hyenas, giraffes, tigers and other animals. Apparently the owner bought four rhinos from a South African wildlife breeding facility in 2012, and rumours indicate that he bought the rhinos, speculating that once the rhino horn trade becomes legal, he would have immediate access to this valuable resource. The girls noticed that the horns of two rhinos seemed to be shaved at the top side.
Vicky and Ness are continuing their trip around Asia to raise awareness for the plight of the rhino, while discovering more about the trade and what is really going on out there. They plan to return to Vietnam in September for World Rhino Day. Check out the Buy No Rhino website for more details on how to support Vicky and Ness financially. So far they have self-funded their amazing project and every contribution will be highly appreciated!