On the Trail of Asia’s Shifting Rhino Horn Market
By Karl Ammann, Published in the Wildlife Ranching magazine, November-December 2018
As long as consumers want rhino horn, South Africa will lose its rhinos to the slow, agonising blows of the poacher’s machete. In this extensive investigation, undercover Swiss filmmaker Karl Ammann finds that blackmarket sentiments have shifted from health to wealth – and that this might be exacting a demand that is bigger than the 1 000-plus rhino poached in South Africa each year.
Economists and conservationists have written reports dealing with the demand-and-supply characteristics of the rhino-horn trade. Although the picture of supply, and how this chain works, seems clear, one might consider the demand side is a lot less clear, as well as how the end-consumer drives it.
My research with South African filmmaker Phil Hattingh for The Hanoi Connection, our feature-length 2018 documentary on the driving forces behind the rhino massacre, kicked off about six years ago by scouting for products in traditional Chinese/ Vietnamese medicine shops in Vietnam. To secure the acceptance we needed, we established ourselves as customers over several trips to Hanoi, the capital, by buying samples of powdered rhino horn or small pieces of horn cut from bigger chunks.
When a chopped piece flew into the street while a dealer was sawing so called rhino horn with heavy equipment on her shop pavement, it became clear that customers were probably being deceived by all kinds of bogus products purporting to be rhino material. After all, the real-deal product would not be treated so carelessly – nor sold to us at the price we paid for the flying fragment.