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After a few minutes of mindlessly flicking through TV channels in hope of something to instantly make my Saturday night in more entertaining, I came across the BBC’s wildlife programme ‘Flight of the Rhino’. Now I’m not someone who pays much attention to rhinos but with a choice of either 1. Calling it a day; or 2. Potentially acquiring enough knowledge on rhinos for me to salvage my flagging pub quiz team next Thursday…the rhinos win hands down.
Regrettably I had to switch it off after half an hour. Scenes of dead rhino carcasses had left me feeling uncomfortable and shamefully helpless for an animal which I had only become conscious of 30 minutes before. This programme highlighted an issue I had chosen to ignore but now struck a chord due to my affiliation with the Far East. Around the same time the programme was broadcast 3 people were arrested for smuggling endangered rhino horns into China. Two horns were allegedly bought for $59,000; a testament to the true magnitude of the poaching business. I currently reside in China and I wanted to find out why the demand for rhino ivory was so high in a country I temporarily call home.
It originates from China’s longstanding tradition with ‘wellbeing’ and incorporating balanced concepts such as ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ into la vie quotidienne. Chinese food is based on the principle of balancing ingredients and flavours to generate various health properties (sweet and sour anyone?) while ‘Feng Shui’ uses the orientation of buildings or structures to enhance positivity energy or ‘Qi’. But one wellbeing concept which most concerns the rhinos is Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM’s view of the body focuses on functional entities such as digestion, breathing and aging and disharmonious interaction of these entities is believed to create disease. Animal sources are considered to re-harmonise these entities and as a result, this has led to large trafficking of endangered animals such as the Black Rhino. But what makes the Black Rhino so special? It has long been rumoured that the Black Rhino cures impotence and sexual inadequacy. The Western writer J.A. Hunter writes that ‘powdered rhino horn [is placed in] some appropriate drink, hoping to feel like a 20 year old when entering the harem’. However Steve Toon writes that the rhino’s sexual properties are ‘not perceived as a frivolous love potion but as an irreplaceable pharmaceutical necessity’. Whatever its function, the demand is on the rise. In 2012 there were 668 killings of rhinos in South Africa, a 50% increase from 2011; an eye-watering figure caused by unnecessary greed. Even more ‘unnecessary’ according to attacks made on China’s longstanding love affair with rhino horn, which claim it doesn’t even work.
However we can’t place all the blame on China. According to WWF, in 1993 some effort was made from the Chinese government to crack down on using rhino horn for traditional medicines, but because of the huge demand in the world’s most populous country the problem of rhino ivory remains as big as ever. It’s worth adding that China is not the only country with a rhino addiction; Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia are all vying for rhino horn parts in order to placate a thriving rhino market. As well as China, these countries have implemented wildlife trade controls, but surely more must be done? Perhaps it is up to the South African wildlife reserves to put a stop to excessive poaching? Game keeper William Fowlds admits there have been solutions such as pre-emptively cutting off the horns on rhinos or perhaps increasing security in the reserves. However, these measures would take away what makes the rhino and the reserves so special and would conflict with the true purpose for which these reserves were created, a space for just animals to roam and be – a point which I struggle to argue against.
Reflecting on Fowld’s argument, I can’t help thinking of the Confucius quote “君子喻於義，小人喻於利” ‘The superior man is aware of Righteousness, the inferior man is aware of advantage’. Knowing he would disapprove of the three convicted poachers and their actions perhaps highlights the need for a re-evaluation of these ancient traditional methods being practiced in an ever changing world. And for the sake of the rhino and many other endangered animals killed for archaic practices, it needs to stop.
By Chloe Saunders
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham