The war to save rhinos from the frontlines of Viet Nam

(This article was originally published in The Horn Autumn 2015.  
Author: Doug Hendrie, Wildlife Crime and Investigations Unit Advisor, Education for Nature Vietnam).

Vietnam is considered a major contributor to the current rhino crisis. A dozen Vietnamese citizens have been arrested in South Africa, Mozambique and elsewhere for their involvement in rhino horn trade. Vietnam is well known to be one of the major consumer markets for rhino horn.

Since 2010, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) has documented 159 cases relating to selling, advertising, smuggling, and trading of rhino horn in Vietnam. 75 of these cases involved advertising and selling horns, many on the internet, and most believed to be advertisements for fake products.

While ENV has engaged in reducing consumer demand for wildlife since 2000, rhino-specific demand-reduction activities began in 2011 and have involved airing public service announcements on TV and radio, media campaigns, viral advertising and outreach activities targeting both consumers and the wider public. ENV’s consumer targeted campaigns include partnerships with luxury car makers, golf clubs, elite membership gyms, and luxury hotels. ENV has also worked with the Vietnam Business Association (VCCI) to gauge the attitudes of CEOs, and surveyed more than 90 traditional medicine outlets to evaluate attitudes towards use of rhino horn.

In 2013, ENV and the Rhinose Foundation brought a key National Assembly committee leader, a senior police commander, a national celebrity and a journalist from Vietnam to South Africa. The aim was to expose the delegation to the situation in South Africa so they would promote the cause back home. Despite initial claims by the delegation that rhino horn consumption was not a major problem in Vietnam, the mission transformed their attitudes, accepting that demand from Vietnamese consumers, while not alone, was driving the killing of rhinos in South Africa. The message was clear; the war needs to be fought and won in both Africa and Asia. ENV returned to South Africa the following year with another Vietnamese delegation.

ENV also focuses on strengthening law enforcement, working closely with its partners mapping Vietnamese-led criminal networks that operate well beyond Vietnam’s borders. ENV’s Wildlife Crime Unit and investigations team spend the majority of their office hours working with the public and law enforcement authorities to address consumer crime.

A typical case starts with a hotline phone call, email or facebook message. On 30 October 2014, ENV received a report from TRAFFIC about a man advertising rhino horn on the internet. After several days of negotiation, the seller agreed to meet ENV’s investigators. The seller was very cautious initially, however after further discussion, the tension eased and the lead investigator convinced the seller their offer was genuine, but she required her brother to verify the authenticity of the horn before purchase.

Unlike most advertisements, which usually offer fake products such as buffalo horn, ENV’s follow up as well as the price asked suggested that the horn may be genuine. ENV brought Hanoi Environmental Police (EP) up to speed with the case, after which EP set up a buy, arresting two Hanoi men with a piece of rhino horn and a fake firearm, reportedly used to impress buyers if needed. Police raided the subject’s home recovering another piece of rhino horn and various tiger claws and canines. The rhino horn was later determined to be genuine, originating from a white rhino.

Unfortunately most rhino horn cases in Vietnam have never seen a day in court; thus ENV policy and legislation team have been working closely with the government to strengthen laws. ENV comprises 30 hard-working Vietnamese on the front-lines of the fight, doing their best to ensure the world’s rhinos do not follow the path of Vietnam’s rhinos, lost forever in 2010 to greed and indifference in a rapidly developing world. 


Since November 2014, Save the Rhino has sent a total of £11,373 to ENV, including €2,500 from Association Ecofaune Virement, €5,600 from Ales Weiner, £5,000 from the James Gibson Charitable Trust and other misc. donations and our own core funds.