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The Tao of Saigon Horn

February 17, 2013

Like medicine in ancient Greece, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and traditional medicine in Vietnam have strong philosophical underpinnings.

Today’s TCM practitioners draw their knowledge from everywhere East or West, but the foundation still lies in those ancient teachings and doctrines.

The principles of Yin and Yang, the flow of energy (Chi) through subtle channels, the five elements, the five viscera and the five flavours are guiding principles for doctors and the people in Vietnam.

I was looking at the spiraling use of rhino horn in Vietnam, the beliefs around its use, so I decided it would be valuable to look at the philosophy behind the  medicine, rather than merely the science.IMG_0419

I studied two main books – The ancient canon of  TCM The Nei Ching and a very well researched book on this  topic by Richard Ellis, Tiger Bone and Rhino Horn: The destruction of wildlife for Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I also spoke to TCM doctors both here and in Vietnam.

If you are interested in the plight of the rhinos that are being killed everyday to supply TCM in China and Vietnam, read both parts of my article The Tao of Saigon Horn Part 1 and The Tao of Saigon Horn Part 2.IMG_0490 IMG_1570

How I became interested in the illegal rhino horn trade

A few years before Vietnam’s last rhino was killed I visited its home in Cat Tien National Park only half a day’s bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City.

I remember talking to the park rangers about the rhinos and whether I was likely to see one on the night safari. He said they were in a more remote part of the park and sightings were very rare.

A year later I learned from WWF the last one was killed and its horn was taken.

I looked into the story and found that the rhino had actually been tracked by rhino-dung sniffer dogs before its death for a WWF scientific program to conserve the species in Cat Tien.

I also found that rhino horn was extremely valuable in Vietnam and that illegal rhino killings in South Africa had skyrocketed in recent years.

The evidence pointed to Vietnam as the end market.

WWF, TRAFFIC and CITES were producing reports about this. They said rhino horn was being sought in Vietnam for medicinal use amid a new rumor that it could cure cancer.

There was a gap in the information at that time so I started to investigate the actual use of rhino horn in everyday Saigon society. What I found was that many people were willing to talk about how they had seen, used or knew of someone who had used it.

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