A Vietnamese delegation has finalized a wildlife protection agreement with South Africa focusing on the rhinoceros.
Under the agreement, a campaign will be launched against the deep-rooted belief in Vietnam that the endangered creature's horn is a powerful medicine.
Nguyen Trung Kien, member of the delegation and counselor of the Vietnam embassy in South Africa, said he believes that a campaign similar to the one rather successful last year about tigers can draw public attention to the need to protect the rhino from poaching, according to a Monday report on the Independent Online (IOL), a South African online news service.
Kien said both tiger and rhino parts are in demand for medicinal use in Asia, so the campaign would fight the false belief that rhino horns offer a cure for many serious diseases including cancer.
"In Vietnam, people don't know much about the rhino. But we have a billion people "¦ who use oriental medicine and believe rhino horn is a treatment," he was cited by the IOL as saying.
Kien said oriental medicine in Asia had ancient roots that were trusted.
Twan Cong Ha, the leader of the delegation, made a similar statement.
Ha said in Vietnam, the belief persisted that rhino horns could cure cancer and that this has fueled the trade.
"Personally, I don't believe in such rumors. We have got a medical research institution involved in verifying if rhino horn can cure cancer, and we will make its finding public," he said.
The Javan rhino has virtually disappeared from Vietnam because of poaching.
Vietnam did not have a specific campaign around rhino poaching, Ha said, adding that by working with the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, Vietnam can come up with an awareness campaign targeting specific species.
A total of 311 rhino in South Africa have fallen prey to the bullets and chainsaws of international crime syndicates this year, the IOL report said.
Several Vietnamese nationals have been involved in the rhino trafficking out of South Africa.
Most notably, in 2008, Vu Moc Anh, First Secretary of the Vietnamese embassy in South Africa, was filmed buying rhino horns from a known trader in front of the embassy building. Anh was summoned home by the government but it is not clear what action was taken against her.
In the latest case, Chu Manh Duc and Nguyen Phi Hung in August this year were jailed for 10 and eight years respectively after they were found with rhino horns in their luggage at Johannesburg's airport last year.
Fundisile Mketeni, the deputy director general of biodiversity and conservation at the South African department, said at a press briefing this week that the unit would extend discussions with big rhino consumers China and Thailand.