Vicky and Ness are two sisters with a passion for cycling and a passion for rhinos. They have spent the past five months cycling through South East Asia, travelling from school to school to teach children about rhinos and the plight they face due to the Asian demand for rhino horn.
Last time we caught up with the girls, they were discovering just how readily rhino horn and other wildlife products can be obtained in Vietnam.
Shortly after that, the Buy No Rhino team crossed from Vietnam into Laos. In Laos, Vicky and Ness discovered that the country acts mainly as a transit for the trade of ivory and rhino horn from Africa into Vietnam and China. However there is an increasing retail market in Laos with more Vietnamese and Chinese people travelling into the country for work and tourism.They also were awed by the sheer beauty of the country, with roads flanked by stunning jungles, however the devastation caused by deforestation was clearly evident. Steep mountain sides had been burnt, the red soil like deep scars in the landscape, the trees cut down for cattle grazing and plastic burning.
The girls enjoyed a short break from all their cycling to enjoy a gibbon experience in the north of Laos. The gibbon experience started as a conservation project to protect some of Laos’ fast disappearing jungles and their gibbon dwellers and has developed into a tourism project where travellers can give back while enjoying three days of zip-lining and sleeping in tree houses.
Then it was on to meet Ben, a South African who works with the Wildlife Conservation Society managing the protected areas in the region, of which one is set aside for the saola. Never heard of an animal called saola? Neither had Vicky and Ness. The saola is one of most endangered antelope species on the planet and was only defined in 1992 when the remains of one were discovered in a survey done by WWF. A living Saola in the wild was first photographed in 1999 by a camera trap. One of Ben’s key focuses is researching this antelope and establishing their population numbers. An interesting technique used in gathering data is testing leeches in the areas, as they carry the DNA of the hosts for approximately 6 months.
Then it was back to Vietnam and the Tree Hugger Café where Vicky and Ness gave a talk about the plight of the rhino to a group of students and then onto the Asemlink Quang Binh School where they ran an animal quiz for some young children to spread the message about saving the rhino.
The more the girls travel the more people they meet that know about the use of rhino horn, especially in Vietnam. Shockingly, in nearly every group of kids, at least one of them knows of a family member or friend who uses rhino horn. According to them, “It is so normal and accepted and many people genuinely believe in the healing power and effectiveness of the horn.” At an English Club called Talk & Drink, many of the people in attendance mentioned that they know of someone using rhino horn. But they also said that convincing them that the horn does not have medicinal values is really hard. According to them, anti rhino horn campaigns should be showing proof that is does not work, linking up with famous and respected Vietnamese doctors who should publicly announce that rhino horn is not medicine. They believe this would have a big impact in Vietnam.
The Buy No Rhino team went on to speak at the Cu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station to a group of school children. The rescue station takes in all kinds of animals that are found injured, orphaned or rescued. After the animals have been nurtured back to health, the centre aims to release them back into the wild. Since the station’s establishment in 2006 more than 6,000 animals have been set free into national parks.
Then also spoke at the Australian International School which has pupils from over 50 nationalities and more than 350 children were able to hear their message about rhinos. The Canadian International School topped their expectations of school visits and they got to talk to about 1,300 kids from Grade 1-12 about the critical rhino situation. Encouragingly a lot of young kids showed enormous interest in learning more about wildlife and how to protect it.
Finally, it was on to meet South African Honorary Consul, Do Thi Kim Lien who got very excited when she heard about the Buy No Rhino project and within minutes she had called together her team, as well as the employees of VASS Assurance Corporation, the insurance company sharing the same office space as the consulate. So Vicky and Ness found themselves presenting to 40 people at an impromptu press meeting. Only hours later already five articles about the campaign had been published online.
Vicky and Ness are not yet done and will continue their Buy No Rhino cycle to raise awareness for rhinos in an attempt to curb the demand for rhino horn in Asia.