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An open letter to the people of Vietnam from the rhino lovers of South Africa

  A ranger stands near the carcass of the rhino bull "Kruger," which was killed by poachers for its horn, in a private game reserve in North West Province, South Africa, in April. Photo: Bloomberg

We have watched horrified, saddened and helpless as our precious wildlife has continued to be pillaged and destroyed. The rhino death count has now reached about 455 to date this year alone (already surpassing the record annual tally of 448 for 2011). We know that demand for rhino horn in China and in Vietnam has been a major reason for this ongoing slaughter.

We know that most of the people of Vietnam are kind and good hearted and we are not angry with you. We are angry with those rich businessmen who create the demand by promoting the false belief that the rhino horn has healing benefits. Many people in Vietnam still continue to use powdered rhino horn thinking that this can cure them of their ailments and diseases.

Science and research have clearly and conclusively proved that rhino horn has no medicinal benefit whatsoever, and that in fact its use amongst cancer sufferers and other diseases has been demonstrated to prevent proper medical treatment.

The rhino horn consists mostly of the protein Keratin, which is the same substance that our hair and toenails are made of, and therefore a person would gain the same benefit from eating their own toenails.

Nature has provided many viable natural alternative medicines in the form of herbs and plants and fruits"¦ a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is the way to prevent cancer.

The horn of a rhino is not a medical solution, its consumption is very expensive and money spent on buying something made of the same substance as your toenails is a great waste.

The rich rhino horn dealers have been cheating you of your money. This money could be better used to create a lot of happiness in social upliftment projects for the poor of your country and would be better spent on your children's education. A rhinoceros horn belongs on a rhino, and nowhere else.

We know that Vietnam used to have many "Javan" rhinos which were steadily killed off by poaching until, in 2004 WWF reports, there were only two remaining. In April 2010, the very last one was killed, at Nam Cat Tien Park. We feel that the good people of Vietnam should be very saddened, and we can imagine that the Buddha, who taught compassion for all people and for all life, is deeply saddened too.

We hope that you will all distance yourself from the practitioners of this vile practice of rhino horn trading and refrain from buying any rhino horn product, and that you do not associate, in any way, with horn dealers.

We in South Africa, who love the rhino, kneel before you with tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts, and we implore you to share this important message, and help us to put an end to this senseless slaughter. Once a species becomes extinct, it is gone forever.

The people of this earth have been entrusted to take care of God's creatures and we should never allow the greed of a handful of people to result in the extinction of our beautiful animals. The power is in your hands to help save the life of the remaining rhinos in Africa and around the world.

Please show the world how much the earth and her creatures mean to you and become defenders of the rhino by sharing the truth. Nature does not require us to take the life of another creature in order to save our own"¦ a healthy lifestyle is the answer. Prevention is better than cure.

We need our friends in Vietnam to be aware of the terrible plight of our beautiful animal, the rhinoceros, or rhino, as we fondly call them. Some criminals in your country are making a lot of money by paying for our beautiful animal to be killed and selling it to your people for very high prices.

We ask you to translate this into your language and spread it among the good people of Vietnam - to educate them that they are being cheated and that a beautiful animal is almost extinct as a result.

Thank you for reading. God bless the good people of Vietnam.

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By Ingrid Esselen

The writer is director of the Worldwide Wildlife Protection Fund, an NGO based in Durban, South Africa.

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