Vietnam is the world’s worst for wildlife trafficking when it comes to compliance and enforcement. While there are many good cops in the country, it’s still overrun with corruption and untouchable Mr. Bigs that run the trade. But why are illegal animal parts like rhino horns popular in the first place? Because people party with them.
Let’s just acknowledge this first: rhino horn, which is hugely popular in Vietnam, is made of keratin like your fingernails. Would you snort fingernail dust or drink wine infused with it? Hell no, because that wouldn’t do shit. Neither does rhino horn, as any researcher will tell you, but that hasn’t stop people from believing it’s the next best thing since sliced cocaine.
Seriously, people think rare fingernails will turn themselves into Rick James, as the Global Post notes:
The belief in Vietnam is that drinking a tonic made from the horn will detoxify the body after a night of heavy boozing, and prevent a hangover. One Vietnamese news website described rhino horn wine as “the alcoholic drink of millionaires.”
It all amounts to an absurd display of conspicuous consumption; any old clown can get party drugs, so for the truly wealthy, why not kill some endangered animals? I mean, what better way is there to impress someone than by whipping out a smuggled piece of horn, grinding it in a special dish, and sucking it back in paste form? Overpriced champagne never felt so plebeian.
It’s horrific, especially since South Africa, home to 80 percent of the world’s rhinos, has experienced a massive surge in poaching in the past few years, fueled largely by Vietnam’s newly rich. When it comes to the wealthy needing to show of their wealth, fancy watches and panda poop tea is one thing, but to get a pretend high off of the death of endangered animals is foul.
Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.