Is rhino new choice for VN nouveau-riche to show off?

The story that has won local headlines over the last week about a banker who lost a rhino horn should be viewed as more than just a theft.

Vice chief of the Board of Management of Sacombank Tram Be lost the six-figure horn when a burglar allegedly broke into his villa in the Mekong Delta city of Tra Vinh, where the dead, stuffed rhino was displayed in the living room, in late September.

Local nouveau-riches have been reported as showing off their wealth and status level by filling their living rooms with wild animals such as tigers, leopards, and now, a rhino.

More than 100 Vietnamese nationals have been licensed to import rhino from South Africa, according to a Tuoi Tre report, which cited figures from the CITES Vietnam Authority, which manages the international trade of endangered wildlife.

CITES Vietnam is not allowed to publicize the name of the rhino importers, but Tuoi Tre quoted its vice director as saying on Tuesday that those “must be the well-off.”

A number of tour organizers are offering tourism plus hunting trips to South Africa, with a package to hunt white rhinos advertised on the websites of such companies costing from US$55,00 to $150,000.

The black rhino trips are a bit more expensive, ranging in a band between $250,000 and $350,000. Hunters should also apply for a license, which costs another $1,000.

Ngo Thanh Nhan, who reportedly presented a dead South African white rhino as a gift to Tram Be, said he attended such a hunting trip in 2006, and acquired full hunting and import papers for his ‘booty’, which he told Tuoi Tre was killed by three shots.

Nhan didn’t reveal how much he spent for the hunt, only saying that he was invited by a South African company.

Tung from the CITES also told Tuoi Tre that most of the international rhino hunters licensed in South Africa are Vietnamese.

And the country is also a lucrative market for illegally trading wild and endangered animals, according to customs authorities.

From 2006 to date, police have detected 11 rhino horn trafficking cases from Africa, and four illegal trading cases in the domestic market.

Some 10 to 30 rhino specimens have been allowed to be imported to Vietnam over the last six years, and most of the importers said they only keep the animals or the horns at home or turn them into souvenirs. No one reports to authorities that they have sold the animals, while it’s impossible to verify the declaration.

Showing off

Vietnam has increasingly been engaged in activities to prevent the killing and trading of endangered animals, and the news that a large number of Vietnamese individuals are licensed to kill and bring rhinos home has infuriated conservationists.

While a handful of groups of volunteers have persuaded eateries and restaurants not to sell wild animal meats, the most worrisome issue is not those who trade the endangered animals, but those who consume them.

“Even when the rhino hunting is totally legal, I keep wondering why they have to kill the animals. What for? To show off their wealth, their power, or social level?” Nguyen Vo Mai Khanh, a third-year student who is working for a volunteer campaign to protect wildlife, was quoted as saying in a Tuoi Tre report.

Khanh told the newspaper that while restaurants selling meat from endangered animals can be raided and fined, those who secretly display rhinos or tigers at their residences are apparently safe from authorities’ detection.

So besides the case of Tram Be, how many other wealthy people are keeping wild animals at home? And have those poor animals been illegally killed and traded?

The answer, sadly, remains a mystery, at least to me.


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