A piece of rhino horn ground on a special dish. Photo credit: To Van Hoa.

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The use of rhino horn in traditional medicine for the treatment of various health conditions and as a status symbol has contributed to the decimation of rhino populations worldwide. Although much effort has been invested in behaviour modification campaigns, it is unclear to what extent rhino horn users are exposed to and accept the messages delivered in these campaigns. We interviewed 50 confessed rhino horn users in Hanoi asking to whom they mostly listened to when considering to buy or use rhino horn and whether signing a pledge to support rhino protection would change their behaviours. 

We found that rhino horn users mostly listened to their family members, friends, or business associates who had previously used rhino horn. They generally did not listen to and often directly distrusted doctors, traditional medicine practitioners, government officials, business leaders, or celebrities who appeared in demand reduction activities. Although a relatively high proportion of respondents reported having exposed to rhino horn campaigns, very few confirmed their recognition of any of the five ads from the two most high-profile campaigns when we presented to them. These campaigns had very little influence on their behaviours while the implementing organisations and individuals delivering the message were considered untrustworthy and driven by profit. The general finding was that rhino horn users were indifferent toward demand reduction campaigns and that they prioritised other things in their lives such as their work, families, or hobbies than saving rhinos. Though most of the respondents were willing to sign a pledge not to buy or use rhino horn when asked by their employers or business associations, many acknowledged that they would very likely break this pledge. They agreed to sign the pledge because of the pressure from their peers or superiors or just because it did not cost them anything. We suggest that this initiative could be improved by asking individuals to write their pledge and send it to an organisation on a voluntary and discrete basis.

We also found that the proliferation of campaigns implemented by different organisations and institutes using various messages might have confused consumers. To increase the acceptance of demand reduction campaigns, we highlighted the importance of strengthening cross-institution collaboration. Conservation organisations should also consider removing their names and logos from campaign ads to reduce distrust in the target audience. A national action plan should be developed with the involvement of researchers who could provide reliable insights into actual rhino horn user behaviour and facilitate campaign impact evaluation.