Monday, 2 January 2012

A Stalinist-inspired surge?

Although the explosion in rhino poaching in South Africa, which has ninety percent of the world’s total rhino population, is no longer the headline new it was when I first chronicled it in June 2010, it has become catastrophic, with as much as seven percent of rhinos living as of January 2008 having been poached in the past four years.

Whilst efforts to bring poachers to trial have been mixed, and some within rhino range states have independently suggested Robert P. Murphy’s idea of privatising rhinos so that they could be sold for profit or watched by the public for a fee, the new year has seen a fascinating revelation about where the demand for rhino horn was coming from.

It has long been known the Vietnam, which lost its last rhinos in 2011, has been the main source of the upsurge in rhinoceros poaching, has been the source of demand for the horn from South African rhinos. However, this article by Elizabeth Batt has made the sinister suggestion that it is the Vietnamese government of all people who is responsible for the decimation of rhinos.
Increased demand it appeared, was fueled by the rumor from a Vietnamese politician who claimed that his cancer had been cured by ingesting powdered rhino horn.
This is a terrible scene if it is true, and would mean that Stalinism, in one of its last holdouts, has been responsible for an environmental disaster that may rival in long-term effect, if not in scope, what was done to the Aral Sea by Stalinism in Central Asia.

Unless accusations against it can be proven false, the effects of the Vietnamese government on the world’s rhino population over the past four years really do demand a reaction. Although Vietnam has moved towards a globalised market economy, it has never been as high-profile about this as China, and since the death of Hồ Chí Minh and reunification it has never been in the headlines beyond debates over “boat people”. Today’s rhino poaching epidemic ought to change that, besides seeing a dark underside to Asian culture for both Left and Right.

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