The British government has formally asked China, Vietnam and other Asian countries to tell their citizens that rhino horn has no medicinal value to try to save the rhino from extinction. The belief that the horn holds medicinal value is deeply grained within Asian culture, as I discovered years ago in Taiwan.
About 20 years ago, I was on a delegation to Taiwan and one of my areas of discussion was environmental protection. On the flight over to Taipei, our government sanctioned the Taiwan government for the sale of endangered species body parts in medicines and products. When I arrived, that is all the President and ministers wanted to discuss. They were quite angry and insisted that you could not buy such things as tiger bone on the island.
After days of denials, I decided to investigate the matter myself. I left the meeting early and got into a cab. The Justice minister had just denied that such products were openly sold in Taiwan so I asked the cab driver where I could buy tiger bone. He immediately said “Snake alley.” He offered to drive me that night and I accepted. After driving through the city that night, we walked me down a narrow alley with underaged girl prostitutes on either side behind thin curtains. It was horrible with some girls who looked as young as ten. We then emerged in Snake alley — so named because people often came to drink snake blood as an aphrodisiac. I watched as one large snake was killed and drained into a pint cup and given to a young man. The snake’s beating heart was placed on the table in front of him. He paid a wad of money and drank the blood and was served a snake soup. In addition to open sex acts on display, there was a wide array of endangered species body parts for sale from dozens of open tables. I bought a few and took them to the meeting the next day. I explain that it took me literally minutes to find a place to buy these. The minister looked shocked and then had an interesting response. Instead of again denying the availability of such products, he said that the Chinese culture is ancient and that he can personally attest that these ancient remedies work.
Rhino horn is also believed to combat cancer and is now more expensive than gold or cocaine — fueling the slaughter of the animals. Even museums have been broken into to get at the horns.
The problem (as discussed above) is that many Chinese officials harbor these notions of special healing qualities from such products. Yet, Britain is clearly correct that only an educational campaign by these countries will stem the slaughter.