Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rhino Horn and Bling

-->In my post of 17th August I referred to a fine piece of undercover detective work carried out by Karl Amman. It is titled Hanoi Connection, The Rhino Horn Mafia. In this 26 minute video he shows how the rhino horn trade has exploded and gone mainstream in Hanoi. So much so that there are large quantities of false horn now available on the market as demand has grown. 
I had thought that this was driven by the TCM market, with the added extra component of an alleged used for dealing with hangovers and so-called rhino horn parties at which the stuff is ground on specially designed plates, suspended in fluid and drunk.

Of course this moves the use of the horn into the conspicuous consumption field, and Karl has very recently taken his investigation a lot further. 

Rhino horn is now used as bling

His full story is up on his website and will also appear in the East Africna Wildlife Society's flagship magazine Swara. For lovers of wildlife stories, and an edgy apporoach to today's issues, you could not do better than subscribe. Here are a couple of Karl's pictures from the bling story.

A horn shop in Hanoi at left and a
 transaction underway at right

I decided to find out a bit more about bling and of course the first place to look was on Google. I knew it is a word that has only come into the lexicon in recent times. I had not realized how recent. One source states that it is of Jamaican origin and was first used by the Silvertones in their December 2002 song Bling Bling Christmas.

It is such a good word that it is now in common use throughout the English-speaking world. Various definitions are offered. A simple one is Flash and sparkle; glamour. Another puts it this way: The word "bling" refers to any unnecessary accumulation of metal or jewellery which impresses the simple-minded.

I fell to thinking about bling in a wider context. Of course there are plenty of recent references to things like fancy engagement rings and so on, but the truth is that humans were using bling long before it became a word. 

Witness the widespread used of animal parts by people all over the world for who knows how long.

Joy Adamson’s fascinating 1967 book The Peoples of Kenya has dozens of her photos and paintings showing tribesmen dressed in an extraordinary array of skins, feathers, bones and horns. Many of the original works have been shown in Nairobi’s National Museum, once known as the Coryndon Museum.

Ostrich feathers were not only worn by Kenyan and other African warriors. They became a fashion statement for western women and ostrich famers of the late 19th and very early 20th centuries profited mightily. Then came the motorcar. Most cars were open to the elements and the industry took a hit. 

In my copy of the 1982 The Elk of North America is a picture of a beautiful young girl of the Dakota Sioux Nation nation who is wearing a ceremonial dress covered in approximately 1700 canine teeth (aka bugle teeth) of a wapiti.

Some of the tribesmen of Papua New Guinea are famous for wearing all sorts of bling. Perhaps the most well-known are the bones through their nasal septa and the Koteka or penis sheath worn by many, mainly highland, tribes. 

Last weekend my wife and I watched a PBS movie made by Ken Burns. It is titled The National Parks: America's Best Idea and tells a remarkable story. The bling issue arose there as well, in a way I knew nothing about. A hundred and ten years ago egrets in the Florida Everglades were shot in unimaginable numbers - 5 million a year. All the feathers, and some whole birds, were used to decorate women's hats! 
"Wanda in wild feathers." A photo from the early 1900s

Almost 95% of the species were wiped out and the feathers for the hats had to be obtained during the nesting season.

The movie’s narrator recounts how a naturalist, going for a stroll in New York, saw 542 feathered hats with material from 40 different species.

Numerous attempts were made to halt the slaughter and an Audubon Society campaign failed. Only when a government congressman named John F Lacey got something done did things improve! 

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Is the use of rhino horn bracelet worn opposite a $15,000 Rolex watch (and costing about as much) just the latest manifestation of an ancient human trait?


Unknown said...

Great investigative journalism by Karl Amman. Has any attempt been made to DNA sample the items being sold in Vietnam to see where the horn originated from?

Jerry Haigh said...

I wil email Karl and ask him. Good question, but sadly I think it is only of academic interest. Of course the best bet is Kruger.

Unknown said...

Maybe once international enforcement agencies get involved testing might happen. In the meantime I suppose we have to keep trying to change attitudes. Surely there must be some people in Vietnam who would beopen to the idea that wiping an entire species for this purpose is wrong?

Jerry Haigh said...

One would hope so. It took a lot of failures by high-profile folks to stop the egret slaughter in 1900. Eventually one man (Lacey) led the charge. Is there a similar person in Vietnam? No idea. Eforts in China on the ivory trade are seriously ramped up, with actors, basketball stars and a 14 year old girl (Celia Ho) all very active. Will they succeed? I doubt it - the tradition is very encient and goverment supported.

Jerry Haigh said...

This just in from Karl Amman on the DNA question
Yes attempts have been made and are being made but there appears to be a backlog as far as updating the data base of poached rhinos so it all takes quite some time. So far no matches but hopeful concerning the samples still being held.

Unknown said...

I hope the DNA matching leads to prosecutions. Mass slaughter is something the Vietnamese have suffered from themselves in the past. If only they would realise that by purchasing rhino horn and turning a blind eye to the traficking of ivory through their country they are having a very damaging affect on Africa's wildlife and people.

Diane said...

I have just received this email!!!!

I have just spoken with my son who works as a game ranger on a game
Kapama Game Reserve near the Kruger National park in South Africa. It
seems poachers shot three of their Rhino. All three were darted and their
horns cut off. One was allowed to bleed to death while the other two are
extremely stressed and it is unknown whether they will survive their
injuries. It is strongly suspected that the poachers are of European ethnic
group as they drugged the Rhino first. Unfortunately my son cannot place
the Rhinos in a keep as this will stress them out even more and definitely
kill them off. My son and his colleagues have to leave them in the wild and
then hunt them down with a vet in tow to check on them.
This is not the first time it has happened as they have had many other
animals poached. The poachers are now getting very brazen with their
attacks which are sometimes within earshot of the lodges. Even with the
best will in the land unfortunately my son and his colleagues are fighting
a losing battle against poacher as my son and his colleagues only have
normal hunting rifles and not a sub machine guns, night scopes etc. The
big concern is whether the poachers will start thinking about attacking the
lodges and robbing the guests if anti poaching becomes too effective. As
per the law in South Africa, the rifles have to be securely locked up so to
access them in a hurry is impossible. They cannot carry the rifles with
them while they are taking guests out as this may upset some guests. It
seems it is no longer safe in the bush with these well organised gangs of
poachers who have all the latest and greatest equipment and are prepared to
kill if they are cornered.
In the good old days, we could track down the poachers and shoot the bar
stools as we were all on an equal footing with no such thing as night
scopes etc and the poachers were a lot less organised! I hate poachers
with a vengeance!

Jerry Haigh said...

This is terrible news. As I wrote in previous posts,the bad guys are always one step ahead. This is proof of that age-old situation. Policing is always going to be a problem. May I post your message to Facebook and twitter?

Diane said...

Email sent to you saying please post where ever as the news needs to be told. Diane