A new campaign launched in Vietnam on Monday tackles the cultural and societal myths associated with rhino horn in the country i.e. that it boosts health, wealth, status and male sexuality.
The campaign, called "Chi" or "Power Comes From Our Will", was announced at a press briefing held by WWF in Cape Town on Monday. "Chi" aims to fight rhino poaching by weakening demand directly within its biggest market.
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Bloody rhino graphics ineffective
Research conducted by WWF and TRAFFIC indicates that previous campaign images (which have tended to either depict rhinos as "cute", or used shocking images of bloody victims of poaching), have not worked in changing behaviour among Vietnamese consumers.
The new campaign does not include images of rhinos at all - not even in its logo. Instead, the print ads depict successful "suits", as this is the group identified as the most likely users of horn: newly affluent businessmen and entrepreneurs for whom status and the admiration of their peers is paramount.
WWF reports that in addition to this group, which comprises mainly males aged 35 to 50-something, there is a new younger group of "intenders" - up-and-coming Vietnamese men who aspire to gain the admiration of the older group.
Conservationists are highly concerned that there are three to four times as many intenders than there are older affluent businessmen, and that they represent a large latent market for rhino horn. The campaign hopes to reach these potential consumers before they become active buyers.
Myth 1: Rhino horn confers status and power
Rhino horn, whether in powdered form or intact, is often given as a corporate gift or displayed in houses to demonstrate power and status.
Myth 2: Rhino horn provides health and strength
One of the prevalent myths is that rhino horn is beneficial for a wide range of ailments, from hangover to cancer. The belief is that powdered horn has a "cooling and cleansing" effect on the body. Sometimes it is taken as a presumed preventative therapy, and may be offered by businessmen to peers when they are dining and (especially) drinking to ward against hangover and other ills.
Vietnamese users also say they like to keep some powered horn in the house for "peace of mind."
Myth 3: Rhino horn boosts virility
Although use of rhino horn to enhance the male sexual response is no longer thought to be a major reason for use, this belief still exists and is a motivator for consumption.
Myth 4: Rhino horn brings good luck
As well as a symbol of power, wealth and status, the superstition persists that rare rhino horn brings good luck, and good fortune in business dealings.
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WWF Press briefing, Cape Town, 22 September 2014
Olivia Rose-Innes is Health24’s EnviroHealth Editor. Read more of her columns and articles or post a question to her expert forum.