Vietnam is one of the world’s largest consumers of rhino horn for use in traditional medicine. The demand there has helped push this distinctive animal to the brink of extinction. The animals are killed for their horns and a small number remain alive and suffer in agony after the horns are hacked off their faces. It is immense cruelty for no reason: rhino horn is made of keratin, the substance found in hair and fingernails, and has no curative properties.
All five rhino species in the world today are threatened with extinction, and at the Humane Society family of organizations we are working on many fronts to legislate, educate and end the poaching and trophy hunting of rhinos. This week, as part of Humane Society International’s global efforts to end the use of rhino horn, we released a powerful advertisement aimed at persuading the people of Vietnam of the need to end the consumption of rhino horn and ultimately end the poaching of rhinos in Africa.
The short ad, titled “When I Grow Up,” will play on passenger screens on all Vietnam Airlines flights as well as in premium airline lounges at major airports in Vietnam for six months. In the ad, charming children at a school share their dreams for their future careers. One shy little boy stands out, awakening pride and compassion in his audience, as he acknowledges the greatness of his nation while reminding them of its role in the consumption of rhino horn. “When I grow up, I want to protect rhinos. Then Vietnam can be truly proud,” he concludes.
The ad, created with support from the Glen and Bobbie Ceiley Foundation, is the latest in a series of efforts made by HSI to end rhino horn consumption in Vietnam and other nations. In 2013, working with the Vietnamese government, we launched a rhino horn demand reduction campaign. The campaign is believed to have reached an estimated 37 million people—approximately a third of the nation’s population—and we are already seeing many promising trends as a result. For instance, there have been indications that the price of horns on the black market has fallen recently.
In 2016, with support from HSI, Vietnam, for the first time in its history, destroyed more than two tons of ivory, 70 kg of rhino horn, and other seized wildlife specimens.
Beginning in 2017, we partnered with the government to implement a ground-breaking project to tackle illegal wildlife trade. This project developed and distributed educational lessons on threatened wildlife, including rhinos, to millions of schoolchildren.
We continue to keep up the pressure in other nations that are major consumers of rhino horn or rhino trophies. In September, on World Rhino Day, we held a press conference and released a joint letter, co-signed by 35 groups across China, urging President Xi Jinping and China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration to prohibit the import of rhino hunting trophies to China, the world’s largest importer of such trophies after the United States. Stateside, we have been urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop issuing rhino trophy import permits to American trophy hunters.
There are fewer than 29,000 rhinos left in the wild today in their natural habitats in Africa and Asia. By ending rhino horn consumption for unproven and unscientific “medicine” and banning trophy hunting imports, nations like the United States, China and Vietnam can make a huge difference in helping these charismatic animals survive and thrive. As we launch this ad in Vietnam, we are hopeful that one little schoolboy’s plea will be taken with seriousness and compassion by a larger audience in his nation—and across the world.