Consumers have a strong preference for wild rhino and do not believe that horns from semi-wild or farmed rhino have the same medicinal effects
Demand for rhino horn in Asian markets, especially Vietnam and China have pushed the remaining rhino populations to the brink of extinction. in the past decade, nearly 10,000 rhinos have been killed by poachers in Africa. The remaining rhino populations in Africa and Asia are steadily declining, with less than 30,000 animals Left in 2020 by 500,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 20th century.
rhino is coveted for alleged medicinal properties and as a status symbol. To stop the rhino poaching crisis, it was recommended that horns sustainably harvested from live rhinos can be sold in a legal trade to international buyers to meet demand.
At the same time, this can generate revenue to fund anti-poaching activities, create jobs for local people, deter poachers and encourage private rhino owners to conserve rhinos.
In an international, legal trade, rhino horns can be microchipped and a certification and licensing system put in place to prevent money laundering.
But whether the legalization of international trade in rhino horn can contribute to the conservation of rhinos is a hotly debated question in conservation circles. Opponents argue that a legal trade would remove the stigma attached to using rhino horn, thus increasing demand to dangerous levels.
We released one new study which addresses this conundrum by conducting an experiment with 345 rhino horn consumers in Vietnam to gain insight into their rhino horn purchasing decisions.
We found that a legal trade in rhino horn would not eliminate, but likely reduce, a parallel black market. Our insights can be used to assess the likely consequences of legal trade and to develop policies and interventions to manage demand for rhino horn.
Fondness for wild rhinos
Trading in rhino horn is very lucrative. on the black market, Rhino horn prizes can be obtained up to $400,000 per kg for Asian rhino horns and $20,000 per kg for African rhino horns.
While rhino is most used As a traditional medicine in Vietnam to reduce hangovers, detoxify the body and reduce high fever (although there is no scientific evidence of these benefits), a large quantity of rhino horn is supplied to the art and antiques market in China.
Only by interviewing actual consumers of this product can we gain insights into purchase motivation and preferences for rhino horn. However, because rhino is so expensive, rhino horn consumers are reaching out are mostly high-ranking and very wealthy individuals who are notoriously averse to investigations into their illegal conduct.
They generally don’t want to talk to researchers they don’t trust about purchasing and using rhino horn. They are also not motivated to participate in interviews by small gifts or abstract reasons such as the protection of rhinos. This poses a major challenge for studying the impact of legal trade on consumer demand.
To interview a large number of rhino consumers, we hired a team of research assistants with a winning sense of humor, colorful life experiences, and genuine guts.
With a rented Porsche and a Rolex watch borrowed from friends, we got in touch to various networks and clubs where affluent consumers often meet, such as golf and tennis clubs, and built a network of key informants who helped us introduce ourselves to potential respondents.
In the interviews, we showed them selection cards and kindly asked them to make decisions about purchasing rhino horn for medicinal purposes in various scenarios, including an international, legal trade in rhino horn.
Our study shows that consumers don’t want captive-bred rhinos that are perceived as ‘raised’ like cattle or horses. They prefer, and are willing to pay more, for horns from rhinos living in the wild or semi-wild environments — such as on private ranches, where they must find food and water themselves, but receive extra feeding at some times of the year.
This is because consumers believe wild rhino horns have better medicinal efficacy than farmed ones when exposed to natural medicinal herbs.
Consumers preferred legal trade. However, those with higher incomes were less concerned about legality. Therefore, if the legal supply of wild rhino horns is insufficient, they will likely purchase poached or stolen horns from illegal suppliers.
Impact on Conservation
Our results show some support for the argument that legal trade could shift the preference of a large proportion of consumers towards legally supplied horns.
However, the strong fondness for wild rhino horns is a big problem. As a result, a legitimate trade would likely continue to face competition from a parallel black market.
This means that the extent to which poaching would be reduced would depend on the legal supply of wild and semi-wild rhino horns, the ability of campaigns to change consumer preferences, the extent to which legal trade would reduce stigma and increase demand, and so on enforcement efforts in both supply and demand countries.
Our results suggest that campaigns based on the influence of peer testimonials could be a viable strategy to reduce demand by encouraging people who have experienced no or negative effects from rhino horn use to take part in the debate.
rhino consumers listen often to their peers if they are considering purchasing or using this product. We found that the more their peers used rhino horn with no or adverse effects, the less likely consumers were to purchase rhino horn.
Some important questions remain unanswered by the study. These include; the extent to which legal supplies can meet potentially increasing market demand and whether consumers can be persuaded that less, if any, wild rhino has similar health benefits to wild rhino.
Additionally, the aggregate international demand for rhino horn is unknown once the rhino horn trade has been legalized, and there is no guarantee that legal horns will be able to meet this demand. More importantly, consumers have a strong preference for wild rhino and do not believe that the horns of semi-wild or farmed rhino have the same medicinal properties.
Finally, our study only provides insights into Vietnamese consumers, while largely unexploring Chinese tourists visiting Hanoi to buy rhino horn and the mainland Chinese market. Although more evidence is needed to confirm whether or not a legal trade will help protect rhinos, campaigns to reduce demand should continue.
The study received ethical approval from the Research Ethics Committee for SCIENCE and SUND at the University of Copenhagen and the Ethical Review Board at Hanoi University of Public Health.
Respondents were informed about the purpose of the study, potential benefits and risks of participating in the study, and that they could withdraw from the interview at any time.
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