‘Rhino horn has the medicinal benefit of chewing your fingernails’.
The phrase is meant to be off-putting, a layman’s interpretation of the results of scientific tests.
It is a key statement being echoed in the West to discredit the medicinal use of rhino horn in Vietnam, but it doesn’t work. Instead demand for rhino horn continues to rise.
One of the reasons the statement doesn’t have impact in Vietnam as in the West, it is based on science not supported by Vietnamese world views.
Try and squelch a people’s belief in the efficacy of a centuries old miracle cure with science?
I was having coffee at Vasco’s with Phung the husband of an English friend of mine in the quiet backbar. Live music played in the background, but it was still too early in the evening for the club in downtown Saigon’s Hai Ba Trung St to get hectic. It was January 2011 during the weeks coming up to Tet orChinese New Year and everything was winding down for the most anticipated holiday of the year. Phung owned a video production company and was talking about a movie-industry Tet party he’d attended. It suddenly occurred to me to ask him about a story I was working on. Had he tried rhino horn because I’d heard its use was spreading among Vietnam’s elite? He hadn’t he said, but broke out his iPhone and found a popular website in Vietnamese, vietbao.com.
Phung read the site then translated. The article said the whole body of the rhino is a “miracle medicine”. Even its shit is a miracle – a pain killer – when drank with alcohol. In an article called “Why is rhino horn more expensive than gold” the writer claimed to have drank some of this rhino-dung alcohol made by a man named Viet from Cat Tien National Park (Rhinos had lived in Cat Tien National Park, which is near Saigon, until early 2010). He claimed it had reinvigorated him after an exhausting day of trekking in the forest. I told Phung cynically that it would be a miracle feeling better after a strong drink mixed with rhino dung and added that the account of drinking shit only showed how desperate some Vietnamese were to experience the famed rhino elixir. Phung totally gobsmacked me by saying that he believed it.
“Why would there be so much talk if it wasn’t true,” was his reasoning.
“Muldersdrift, South Africa, 26th February 2015—Ground-breaking community-led approaches to combating wildlife crime around the world will be shared at an international symposium taking place in Muldersdrift near Johannesburg from 26-28th February, attended by researchers, community groups, government officials, UN agencies and NGOs,” a release by TRAFFIC says
“Entitled Beyond enforcement: Communities, governance, incentives and sustainable use in combating wildlife crime, the symposium looks at ways to engage those communities living side by side with the world’s wildlife, to protect key species targeted by the illegal trade while securing their own futures.
“The South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Minister Edna Molewa, will open the symposium.
“Media are invited to attend the closing panel discussion among high level representatives of key governments, donors, and policy-relevant institutions, reflecting on implications of symposium findings on 28th February.
An Eastern Cape game and hunting reserve in South Africa has had two poaching attacks in 11 days with five rhinos killed for their horns and one injured.
The hunting reserve owner suspects that it was the same professional hunters in both poaching incidents. In the most recent attack on February 22, three rhinos were killed and had their horns cut off while a fourth, a cow, was found by helicopter. Eleven days before two rhinos were shot and killed on the same property.
The reserve manager Frank Krull says they discovered the recent attack because they were using a helicopter to spot rhino to dehorn them as a safeguard after the first attack, the Daily Dispatch newspaper in Port Alfred reported.
It all started when the reserve owner Elvin Krull, 80, found the first two rhino carcasses on a remote part of his property during a routine drive.
As a journalist in Vietnam, I came across the country’s illegal trade in rhino horn with South Africa when Vietnam’s last rhino was killed in 2010. Since then rhino poaching deaths in South Africa have grown from 333 to over 1200, but a month ago an incredibly brave rhino, who survived a brutal poaching attack, had a calf. The birth has been heralded as a symbol of hope, so I came to see this very special rhino called Thandi for myself and meet the people at Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, who have helped her on her amazing journey of recovery.
The assistant head ranger at Kariega Game Reserve, Jacques Matthysen, known to his friends as Matt, is passionate about rhino conservation.
He smiles as he leans against the 4WD somewhere in the reserve’s 9000 hectares.
I’m out here with Matt and a local TV crew to see Thandi, one of the few rhinos in South Africa to survive a poaching attack.
ABOVE. This video shows Thandi’s calf hiding in the thicket almost 4 weeks after the birth. I was taken into the hiding place in the last light of the day and focusing through the dense thicket was very difficult. Rhinos generally stay out of sight for about 6 weeks after giving birth.
We talk while we wait for the Head of the Reserve Protection Agency, Mirko Barnard, to come back with news of where Thandi is hiding in the dense thicket below us.
The ranger says he can’t believe that Mirko and his young anti-poaching offsider, JC Crouse, didn’t take a video when they were lucky enough to witness Thandi give birth in the bush.
There’s no excuse, Matt says, the two anti-poaching guys had plenty of time to get out their iPhones to video the baby rhino’s arrival.
“A wild rhino giving birth and they don’t think to get a picture?” he shakes his head.
“Not just a wild rhino, the most famous wild rhino?”
Matt has nine years of working with Thandi. He loves the new mother like she was family.
The Southern White Rhino and Matt have shared the best times and the worst; he’s been with her during her 16 month pregnancy and he’s been with her through the most agonising nightmare that a rhino can endure.
Thandi was poached for her horn almost three years ago along with two other rhinos at Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.
The three rhinos had been out in the open plain for days in plain sight of a road. The poachers came at night, darted them at with tranquilizers, followed them until they were drugged and defenceless, then moved in and hacked their horns off below the bone with pangas (machetes).
Thandi’s injuries were the worst (photos taken on the day show multiple hack marks that didn’t hit their mark) but she was the only survivor. Of her two companions, one bull rhino bled out before the vet arrived and the other bull, Themba, died 24 days later in a waterhole.
The vets and the Game Reserve didn’t find out until Themba’s autopsy that the muscles in the bull rhino’s leg had been slowly dying. The awkward way he had fallen during the attack had cut off the leg’s circulation. Though the rangers tried to hold him out of the water, Themba (which means courage) was too heavy for them and he drowned.
The morning the three rhinos were discovered Kariega decided to call the media and tell the world.
Though many game reserves try to keep the negative stories about rhino poaching on their properties out of the media, Kariega General Manager Alan Weyer says, “We wanted to let people know what was going on.”
The vet, Will Fowlds, who was first at the scene, says he got the call from Kariega that a rhino had been butchered by poachers and was still alive. He was in the car when he got another call that there was a second rhino. Ten minutes later they called again to say there was a third.
“It was traumatic before I even arrived,” Dr Fowlds says.
“The rhinos were found within a few hundred meters of each other. It was obvious they had stuck together during the attack.”
An Eastern Cape journalist, Sandy McCowen, who has reported on wars and natural disasters around the world, says the aftermath of the attack was the “worst thing she’s ever seen with animals”.
The scene overwhelmed her and she cried along with the other journalists present, because the animals were “so defenceless” and obviously suffering such pain.
The TV journalist, who is now doing the follow-up/flipside of the story at Kariega covering the calf’s birth, remembers asking the vets to do something for the rhinos’ pain, but the vets said it was too risky because the pain killers could react fatally with whatever drugs the poachers had used.
“I felt so helpless, so powerless,” she says.
For the crowd of staff, rangers, journos, police and vets running around the reserve’s top plain that day it was a scene they will never forget.
Amid the chaos Thandi got back to her feet and shambled bubbling blood into the bush. At the same time, her horn was being passed through the hands of a syndicate, moving quickly to its final destination in Asia – most likely Vietnam (the biggest end market for rhino horn, sung te giac) or China. The three horns were probably out of the country within two or three days.
Since the media got the story of the mayhem and tragedy that occurred, people from every corner of the world have opened their hearts to Thandi.
Shock and helplessness has turned to joy now Thandi has calved; sheltering with her new son or daughter in dense thicket on the reserve. Much to Sandy’s camera man and editor’s frustration, rhino and calf will avoid the cameras until the calf is four to six weeks old.
The return to motherhood is a return to normalcy for the rhino and a return to normalcy for everyone at Kariega. It’s a sign for everyone around the world who cares, who’s followed her progress on social media, who’s contributed towards the surgery she needed, that rhinos can survive.
Matt, who has the build of a Springbok rugby player and the heart of Aretha Franklin, says what Thandi has accomplished is “remarkable”. He says after the attack he couldn’t speak for a year of Thandi (whose name means “One who is loved”) without crying.
Matt smiles inwardly when he recalls arriving half an hour after the calf was born, “Seeing that little youngster… it was literally just skin and feet and ears.”
“The birth is a symbol of… the best word that comes to mind… is hope.”
“If we carry on doing what we’re doing there might be a little bit more hope in people’s hearts. By bringing out this whole story of the poaching of rhinos to the world it just gives a little more clarity in people’s minds and hearts of what’s going on.”
A member of Kariega’s kitchen staff, Adri Pienaar, says the whole staff at Kariega were saddened by the attack and inspired by Thandi’s fighting spirit and the birth.
Adri, who like Thandi was attacked a few years ago and left for dead, says when she feels like she can’t cope she thinks of Thandi.
“Thandi is an inspiration that people can survive,” she says.
Thandi and her calf are also an inspiration that rhinos can survive.
Locals go to the Muti Market in Durban to buy medicine and magic for them and their house.
The market which is behind Victoria Market deals in Zulu traditional medicinea made from fresh herbs and plants, bark, and animal and marinelife parts.
Some parallels can be draw between Muti and TCM and Vietnamese traditional medicine as herbs and animal parts are used in combinations.
The animal parts sold at the Muti Market however are more crudely prepared than animal parts sold in medicine streets in Vietnam. The bones and remains of animals here still have meat on them and are foul smelling.
This dealer talks about a bucket of black paste that wards off evil. While I was there a woman came and bought some of this paste mixed with three types of dung, different bark and wood chips, minerals and car engine oil to keep “the devil” from her house. She paid 150 rand.
The stall proprietor said the bucket of black paste can also make a person strong if it is put into his blood. You can make a cut in your arm and rub it in and then nobody can kill you, he said.
New Era Health Group has become the first State-owned Chinese company to include a zero tolerance policy towards the use and gifting of illegal and endangered wildlife products within the company’s formal Code of Conduct, Traffic has reported in a statement.
The move came after wildlife trade specialists from TRAFFIC and WWF were invited to talk to senior company representatives about wildlife conservation, forest protection, and other environmental issues as part of a series of environmental training lectures held at the company’s headquarters in Life Science Park, Changping District, Beijing last month.
New Era’s Code of Conduct for employees now includes a commitment that “consumption and procurement of illegal and endangered wildlife products, including but not limited to business banquets and gifts, is not permitted.”
The company has also committed to raise public awareness about the issue and ensure the policy is adhered to within the company’s management structure and beyond. New Era also intends to promote messaging about biodiversity conservation and resource sustainability within other State-owned enterprises and the direct-selling industry. The company hopes their actions will contribute towards a better economy, society, environment and human health.
The survivor of a savage attack by poachers has not only recovered from her awful injuries she has had a baby and the conservation movement is celebrating.
Two years ago Thandi along with two other rhino was tranquilised and had her horn hacked off below the skin by poachers. The vet who found her thought she couldn’t survive.
The South African movement to protect rhinos is thrilled with the miracle baby born this week and is watching for more news of the young rhino.
The baby hasn’t been named yet as they are waiting to discover its sex.
“Thandi’s survival has already given us inspiration, but the birth of her calf brings a new dimension of hope to the crisis showing us that a future generation of life is possible if we put our minds and hearts to it,” the vet (pictured) who found the rhino after the 2012 attack Dr Foulds says.