This case study describes the dynamics of rhino horn trafficking in Nhi Khe, Vietnam, and the fluctuations of the value of raw rhino horn presented to our undercover operatives during the course of our field investigations.
Demand for rhino horn has grown exponentially over the last ten years, fuelling an unprecedented slaughter of rhinos in Africa, and to a lesser extent in India. To provide some insight into the scale of the current problem, in South Africa alone, the number of rhinos killed in 2007 was reported as low as 13, yet by 2016 this number had risen to 10541. While this signalled a decrease from the highest figure reported in 2014 of 1215 poached rhinos, levels are still significant and leaves little room for complacency.
In early August 2017, the WJC were offered 76 rhino horns (comprising both front and back horns) in one single incident, highlighting the organised nature of this trade, where subjects are trading in great volume. This assessment describes the dynamics of rhino horn trafficking in Nhi Khe (Vietnam) and the fluctuations of the value of raw rhino horn presented to our undercover operatives during the course of our field investigations and hopes to inform the wider debate on what drives the demand for rhino horn.
Nhi Khe predominantly targets a Chinese clientele, with the larger shops arranging the smuggling of products into China. Interpreters were seen to play a pivotal role in connecting Chinese buyers with traders and facilitating negotiations. In addition to the physical trade occurring on premises in Nhi Khe, we noted the widespread use of WeChat, and to a lesser extent, Facebook to advertise illegal wildlife products. Vietnamese traders were found to use Chinese bank accounts for the receipt of payments for wildlife products, thus facilitating money laundering and the movement of significant illicit financial flows. In addition, we observed an emerging trend of Chinese buyers using WeChat Wallet, a payment application within WeChat, to pay Vietnamese suppliers for goods purchased. Of particular note, was the extent to which this network was involved in the large-scale trafficking of rhino horn.