Vietnamese Youth say ‘No’ to Rhino Horn
A group of Vietnamese young people visiting South Africa has fervently spoken out against the use of rhino horn and their wish to reduce the rhino horn trade, some even apologising to South Africa on behalf of Vietnam for the manner in which this cultural practise by some of their fellow countrymen impacts on the devastating decline in rhino populations.
The 22 school-going youth from 12 international schools in Ho Chi Minh City, were announced as
winners of the Wild Rhino Competition earlier this year, and subsequently spent the last two weeks
immersed in the beauty and harshness of the African bush during 5-day wilderness trails in the
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve. The purpose of the trails was to nurture awareness, insight, empathy
and understanding – allowing these young students to return home as dedicated and informed
emissaries for conservation and rhino protection.
In a message to the students, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, encouraged them to let
their voices be heard: “You have come to South Africa and you have witnessed first-hand, what is being
done to this majestic animal in the name of culture, prestige, status and even medicine. It is up to you to take back what you have seen and what you have heard and help us save the rhino. The action of
every single one of you counts.”
The Wild Rhino Competition, presented by Wilderness Foundation Africa in partnership with Investec Rhino Lifeline and Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), forms part of a broader strategy aimed at curbing the
demand for rhino horn in primary user countries such as Vietnam.
Says Mr Werner Myburgh, CEO of PPF: “Strategies to reduce the demand for rhino horn in Asian
countries, is a key component in the war against rhino poaching. The senseless poaching of the iconic
rhino species will only stop once rhino horn consumers fully understand the devastating consequences
of their actions and take responsibility for changing their behaviour.”
The Vietnamese students admitted to having only seen wild animals on television before, and having
no personal comprehension of the rhino, as a living, breathing, critical component of nature – a
sentiment that changed radically following their one-on-one experience with rhino in the wild. They
furthermore explained that much of the abuse of rhino horn in Asian countries is not just due to apathy,
but that ignorance about the medicinal and spiritual properties of the horn, and other illegal animal
products, is still widespread.
“These young people have been touched by the power of nature – their lives have been changed for the
better. We have no doubt that they will indeed go back and share their experience and newfound
knowledge with their family, friends and peers. However, they have just reaffirmed that there is much
education still to be done in Vietnam if we are to affect attitudinal and behavioural change,” said
Matthew Norval, Chief Operations Officer, Wilderness Foundation Africa.
Besides attending the wilderness trail, the students spent time with rhino calves orphaned as a result
of poaching, and also participated in educational workshops faciliated by the Wilderness Foundation Africa. During these workshops they were educated on the true reality of the rhino poaching crisis through presentations by specialists in the field such as Psychiatrist and Specialist Wilderness Guide, Dr Ian McCullum; Wildlife Veterinarian, Dr William Fowlds; and Rhino Operations Manager for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Lawrence Munro.
The workshops concluded with very passionate and positive presentations from the students
themselves, who shared details about strategies they propose to develop in order to effectively spread
the message of conservation and rhino protection with their community.
Adding to the excitement was the presence of Vietnamese popstar Thanh Bui who joined some of the
young students on the trail. Thanh, with the support of Soul Music Academy, has been a Wilderness
Foundation Africa ambassador and played an integral part in the Wild Rhino Competition, since its launch in 2014.
The young wilderness graduates each received their official rhino youth ambassador certificates before
starting their journey back to Vietnam where the Wild Rhino Competition partners will continue to
engage with them and support the development of their community and school-based demand
reduction awareness ideas.
Through its Rhino Protection Programme (RPP), Peace Parks Foundation has made a significant
financial contribution to make the launch and roll-out of this initiative possible. The RPP is implemented
under the auspices of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs in partnership with South
African National Parks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and PPF. The roll-out of the multi-faceted programme is
made possible through funding from the Dutch and Swedish postcode lotteries.
Investec supported the Wild Rhino Competition through its Investec Rhino Lifeline conservation
initiative. “It was extremely rewarding to see how these bright, young Vietnamese students have been touched by their experience in South Africa. They have taken the situation of our rhinos to heart and are motivated to be true rhino ambassadors,” said Tanya dos Santos of Investec Rhino Lifeline. “From their reactions, I have no doubt that these youth will make a tangible difference and positively influence their families, friends and communities. Their personal stories alone will have a deep impact.”
Listen to these Youth Rhino Ambassadors and what they say about the power of nature after they returned home to Vietnam.