conservationists shame Asian buyers
news item dscriptionLonnie Shekhtman, Christian Science Monitor
January 16, 2016
<http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2016/0116/To-stem-illegal-rhino-trafficking-conservationists-shame-Asian-buyers> for photos
Before the dust settled on this week’s news that trafficking hub Hong Kong
committed to ban its elephant ivory trade, and just months after the US and
China promised to do the same, conservationists are moving on to another
urgent wildlife target: the rhinoceros.
Rhinos are being poached in Africa in record numbers, their horns prized
for their supposed aphrodisiac and medicinal qualities.
Kenya-based African Wildlife Foundation and San Francisco-based WildAid
recently launched public awareness campaigns in China and Vietnam, the
biggest markets for rhino horn, to try to tap into people’s emotions and
motivations in an effort to clear up misconceptions about the rhino horn's
Advertisers will tell you that you win the heart and the mind follows,
Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid tells The Christian Science
Monitor in a phone interview.
Conservationists are seeing a path to progress emerging. They're using
celebrity endorsements, reason, and harrowing images to convince people to
stop buying rhino horns, drawing on tactics that have already helped reduce
demand for ivory from elephant tusks in China, one of the world’s largest
consumers of wildlife products.
The value of illegal ivory has fallen by half there, as awareness of the
impact of the trade on Africa’s elephants has grown among consumers.
Protecting vulnerable animals in the wild, such as elephants, rhinos,
sharks and tigers, and lobbying world leaders to change international
policies related to the wildlife trade are instrumental. But some
conservation organizations, such as WildAid, are turning to psychology to
make it socially unacceptable to purchase wildlife products.
The point is to show that society has moved forward, says Knights. If
you’re not there, you’re behind the curve, he says.
Convincing enough buyers of this would render the illegal wildlife trade
uneconomical. By reducing demand for rhino horns, prices drop and it
becomes a less viable business for poachers.
It’s all about economic reasons, says Mr. Knights, an economist by
Poaching crises invariably coincide with rapid economic growth in
countries, like China, where there is huge demand for wildlife products. As
long as there is demand, says Knights, regardless of whether the trade of
wildlife products is legal, prices will stay high enough to encourage an
To choke demand, WildAid and the African Wildlife Foundation, with partners
in China and Vietnam, are deploying luminaries such as Virgin Group founder
Richard Branson, and other celebrities including Vietnamese-American
actress Maggie Q, famous Chinese actress Li Bingbing, and Chinese actor and
singer Jing Boran, to persuade the public that horn is not worth brutally
killing rhinos for.
In a campaign called Nail Biters celebrities featured on billboards,
magazine ads, documentaries and public service announcements, much of the
media donated, explain that rhino horn is primarily made of keratin, a
protein also found in human nails and hair. But contrary to local myth, it
has no medicinal or recreational drug value.
One English-language commercial features a casual Mr. Branson biting his
nails as he points out the sad irony of rhino horn, his message buoyed by a
few images of mutilated rhinos briefly flashed across the screen.
I think what Richard Branson is saying is “Hey guys, don’t be scammed,?
says Craig Sholley, vice president at the African Wildlife Foundation, in a
From an economic standpoint, you’re just being completely scammed at the
expense of losing one of the world’s most iconic mammals,? he says.
It’s a technique straight out of the anti-smoking campaigns playbook. The
highly effective Truth campaign, as National Geographic points out, more
than a decade old, has been instrumental in turning young people away from
smoking. It abandoned futile warnings of smoking’s health threats in favour
of showing rebellious, young smokers that they were being manipulated by
It has worked before
The good news is that targeting demand already has helped to reduce
interest in rhino horn in the United States and Europe in the 1980s, and in
Taiwan in the 1990s, when it was the biggest market for horn.
And more recently, it has helped reduce interest in ivory in China, where
an explosion of wealth has encouraged an insatiable appetite for the prized
Conservationists reported the illegal killing of 100,000 elephants in
Africa between 2010 and 2012, that’s 33,630 each year, in a 2014 study by
WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and others. In 2013 and 2014 the
numbers were slightly down, though far from sustainable.
Before conservationists started aggressively campaigning in China in 2012
to help reduce ivory demand, they surveyed the Chinese public, about two
thirds of which didn’t know ivory came from poached elephants. When they
asked again two years later, there was a 50 percent increase in
awareness that ivory comes from poaching not from natural causes.
Two years ago, I would wake up in middle of the night with nightmares
(over losing elephants), says Mr. Sholley. Today I’ve got a much better
feeling, because I feel like we’re beginning to turn a corner, he says.
For rhinos, the situation is dire, Sholley says. There has been an alarming
surge in killings in recent years, from a few in 2007 to 1,160 reported
cases of rhino poaching last year in South Africa, home to most of the
remaining rhinos on the planet, about 25,000 of them. This was a slight
improvement from the 1,215 poached in 2014.
Sholley says he is hopeful about their future despite the bleak statistics.
Surveys that measured evolving perceptions about ivory in China, also show
that the percentage of people who believe that rhino horn has medicinal
benefits has dropped by nearly a quarter, from 58 percent in 2012 to 45
percent in 2014. And about half of the Chinese people polled know that
rhinos are killed for their horns, a 52 percent increase in awareness since
I am confident that in Asia, once they’re aware of the circumstances,
we’re going to turn things around and generations forward in Africa and the
world are still going to have a nice population of elephants and rhinos,