The two main user markets for rhino horn are in Asia, principally China (traditional medicine) and Vietnam (a burgeoning, more recent market based on spurious cancer cure claims and its use as a recreational drug). In the face of these powerful forces, can demand reduction campaigns succeed?


Any assumption that the citizens of China and Vietnam could never be persuaded to change their ways is incorrect. Chinese and Vietnamese people are probably no more intractable than ingrained beliefs prevalent in other nationalities, including those of the west. (Witness the deep divisions regarding Covid vaccinations and mask-wearing. Also relevant, is the misapprehension that inoculating babies against childhood illnesses causes autism, despite the source promoting this view being thoroughly discredited.)

The no-trade lobby stresses the “massive” sums of money wasted on demand-reduction programs to no effect. However, one estimate suggests only a fraction of one percent of all money spent on rhino conservation goes to end-user countries. And of this, only a tiny amount goes into actual demand reduction programs. Protection measures in range states—fencing, rangers, equipment, dehorning, etc.—absorb most rhino conservation funding. If anything, education and demand reduction programs should be stepped up. The total effect of well-funded, directed, and sustained demand reduction campaigns has never been tested.


  1. Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) as it has much to offer, not only in China. To some extent, the jury is still out regarding the curative attributes of rhino horn. The best course of action would be a thorough scientific study of the pharmacological properties of horn. If a therapeutic value is found, chemical alternatives to horn could be sought. 
  2. It is worth noting that in 2010 the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies removed tiger and rhino products from the approved list of traditional medicines. 
  3. The Vietnamese belief in the curative power of horn is not even based in tradition. It is faddish and reversible. There is no reason that campaigns to make horn consumption in Vietnam socially unacceptable would be any less achievable than the stigma now attached to drink driving in the west.
  4. The case of horn used for Yemeni dagger handles, mentioned earlier, is another example of changing attitudes. Whether “traditional” or not, confronting the practice was clearly possible. 


A new Open Access study from the University of Copenhagen and published in People and Nature reveals that rhino horn consumers do not trust demand reduction campaigns. The engagement of famous leaders, celebrities, doctors, and traditional medicine experts does not add credibility to these campaigns as consumers mostly listen to individuals in their networks who have previously used this product.

Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) is a many-faceted therapeutic, centuries-old discipline entrenched in societies that will not easily change – certainly not within a time scale that would save rhinos. Attempts to change the hearts and minds of Southeast Asian people have been unsuccessful. To assume that this could or should be done is a case of gross cultural arrogance. In addition, TCM is also practiced and respected in many societies outside of China, including the west. So, why not take advantage of the commercial opportunity presented and thwart illegal supply via a legitimate market that could provide funding for conservation and rural poverty alleviation?

Pro-traders argue that the often-used demand reduction “success story” regarding shark-fin consumption is weak—it is a food choice, unlike the use of rhino horn, which is deeply rooted in medical practices and beliefs. Furthermore, any reduction in China’s demand for shark fins has been offset by growth in other Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Ultimately, they claim, demand reduction strategies have diverted huge amounts of donor funding into an activity that hasn’t worked. All they have done is impose a Euro-centric, western solution on an African and Asian problem.