Vietnam needs harsher poaching penalties

Rhino horn remains a valuable commodity in Vietnam while authorities hope to sway consumers.

General Jooste meets with Deputy Chairman of the Vietnamese Committee for Science, Technology and Environment, Tuan Nhan Vo and the Vice Chief of Hanoi Environmental Police Viet Tien Nguyen. Picture: Christa Van der Walt/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Law enforcement officials in Vietnam aren't effectively dealing with the trade, consumption and smuggling of rhino horn, non-governmental organisation Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) said on Monday.

ENV coordinator Ninh Thj Phuong Thao spoke to Talk Radio 702's John Robbie about the group's anti-poaching fact-finding mission to South Africa.

Last week, a delegation from Vietnam visited the Kruger National Park in a bid to raise awareness about rhino poaching and its effects in Southern Africa.

Included in the delegation was a National Assembly member, the environmental police, a famous journalist and a comedian.

The trip was funded and arranged by the Rhinose Foundation.

Thao said she hopes through reports from the trip, the National Assembly member will have an influence in helping to strengthen law enforcement when it comes to prosecuting offenders.

Last week, the deputy chief of Vietnam's environmental police said only five people have been arrested in Vietnam for smuggling wildlife this year.

Suspects face a jail sentence of between five and seven years.

She said the consumption of rhino horn in Vietnam is primary limited to a small group of wealthy people.

At present, 100 grams of rhino horn costs about R50,000 in Vietnam.

This has made the rare commodity a symbol of status amongst the country's affluent class.

Thao said the organisation works with members of the public to try and raise awareness and attempt to discard the widely held belief that rhino horn contains medicinal properties.

She said through these campaigns, the organisation has already seen a marked difference.

"We work with the public and we can see the difference between traditional thinking about rhino horn consumption and modern thinking. The majority care about rhino and that's why we have come to South Africa."

Thao said she hopes an even stronger message will be sent after this trip, particularly because of the influential people who took part in the mission.

She added that through the use of other mediums such as radio and television, the group hopes it can make an even bigger impact in terms of dispelling traditional beliefs.

Thao also said the organisation has campaigns that try and create awareness to stop the consumption of tiger bone and bear bile, which are also widespread in Vietnam.

Since the beginning of the year, poachers have killed more than 500 rhino in South Africa.

More than 360 rhino poaching incidents were reported in Kruger National Park alone.