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On April 3, as part of its Capitol Hill Briefing Series, ICCF hosted Andrew Muir, CEO of Wilderness Foundation Africa and Wilderness Foundation Global, to discuss efforts to reduce consumer demand for rhino horn in Southeast Asia.

At the current poaching rate, more rhinos may be killed in 2017 than are born; if this trend continues, it is possible that by 2025 all rhinos in the wild could be extinct. With the rhino poaching crisis escalating, rangers are courageously trying to halt poaching in Africa’s parks and private reserves. Increasing their capacity is essential to holding the front-line of defense against the well-armed and highly sophisticated criminals that are killing and maiming rhinos for the lucrative illegal trade in horn. But, it is the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries that has been identified as the primary driving force behind the mass poaching of rhinos in Africa. More than 80% of illegal rhino horn passes through Vietnam, and much of that remains in Vietnam for consumption. In China, horn has been valued traditionally for its proclaimed traditional medicine value, but in both countries now, use of horn is a status symbol, and it is popular among the elite. “Demand reduction” thus starts with educating end users that rhinos are killed for the horn they are purchasing. The next step is to change the hearts, minds, and habits of the consumers.

Andrew Muir discussed an innovative demand reduction program being implemented in Asia, as well as other projects of Wilderness Foundation Africa (WFA). Examples given were projects supported by Volkswagen and SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund in South Africa, such as the collection of rhino DNA to aid in forensic investigations and prosecutions, rhino calf rescue and care, and training of anti-poaching rangers, including AIDS orphans trained through WFA’s Umzi Wethu program.

As part of its Demand Reduction Campaign, WFA has joined forces with Peace Parks Foundation to research, develop, and implement a youth awareness and engagement campaign aimed at reducing the use of and thereby the demand for rhino horn, starting in Vietnam. WFA first brought two Vietnamese pop singers, Thu Minh and Thanh Bui, to South Africa to experience rhinos in the wild. With their enthusiasm, WFA conceived its Wild Rhino Competition. Through this competition, WFA brings Vietnamese art and essay winners from 12 schools in Ho Chi Mihn City to South Africa to backpack for five days amidst rhinos in the wild on a Wilderness Trail in the iMfolozi (Provincial Park). They also visit an orphanage for rhino calves whose parents were killed by poachers and attend an educational workshop on rhino poaching. WFA discovered by doing so just what elements of a campaign Vietnamese youth will respond to: concerts by Thanh Bui at the schools and a costumed rhino super hero (“Rhino Ranger”) with whom kids can interact in Vietnam. Graduates of the trail become Youth Ambassadors in Vietnam and help implement the Super Hero Campaign among their peers. The next Wild Rhino Competition is underway, with the hope to expand to schools in Hanoi and eventually to China. The program has reached tens of thousands of Vietnamese youth and their families so far directly, as well as nearly a million indirectly through campaign and youth ambassador social media activity.

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