Illegal Trade in Rhino Horn: The Vietnamese Connection


Trophy hunts and Vietnamese ‘clients’

One of the quasi-legal ways that rhino horn finds its way to Vietnamese markets is via trophy hunts in South Africa.

In 2003, CITES permits were issued for nine rhino trophies and two rhino horns to be exported to Vietnam, a country that had not previously been active in trophy hunting.

What followed was alarming: The number of rhino horn exports to Vietnam suddenly increased to 58 in 2006, 73 in 2007 – until a total of 268 rhino horns were reported for the period 2006 – 2009.

However, significant reporting discrepancies were found – suggesting that the figure of 268 rhino horns was actually under-reported.

Whilst this number seems high, Vietnamese nationals reportedly conducted 203 white rhino hunts in South Africa in 2005 – 2007, which would have yielded 406 rhino horns; South African exports, however, only account for 268 horns exported to Viet Nam during this same time period, suggesting that one-third of these hunts took place without the subsequent acquisition of CITES documents.

Additionally, investigations in South Africa found other issues involving links between Vietnamese nationals and trophy hunt operators.

The frequent involvement of a small number of Vietnamese nationals, often on the same game ranches repeatedly; numerous cases whereby Vietnamese “trophy hunters” paid above market price for rhino hunts, but then had to be instructed how to shoot and would completely forego any proper trophy preparation; the issuance of export permits for rhino trophies to Vietnamese nationals who had previously been identified in ongoing rhino crime investigations …

In a recent rhino horn smuggling case, a Vietnamese court sentenced Tran Van Lap of Hanoi to three years in jail for attempting to transport five rhino horns from South Africa to Vietnam.

It is noteworthy that four of the horns were obtained by Lap via a “legal” trophy hunt – however, authorities suspected that the documentation had been falsified.

The trophy hunt scheme

An example of the trophy hunt scheme played out in the media during 2009. It began when Dwesa Nature Reserve auctioned off the right to kill six rhinos to the highest bidder – which happened to be African Scent Safaris.

Afterward, The Herald confirmed that Vietnamese clients of African Scent Safaris killed two rhinos and had the horns exported to Vietnam.

The horns of the two rhinos shot at Dwesa this month have been exported to Vietnam to the hunters who shot them, the outfitter involved in the controversial hunt said yesterday.

Speaking from his base in Bloemfontein, Willem Botha, of African Scent Safaris, said his two Vietnamese clients could now do “anything” with the horns.

Botha did admit that he “had never before had clients from Vietnam” and further claimed he was unaware of a charge pending against one of his clients. Next page >>

Rhishja Cota-Larson

I am the founder of Annamiticus, an educational nonprofit organization which provides news and information about wildlife crime and endangered species. I am the Editor of Rhino Horn is Not Medicine and Project Pangolin, author of the book Murder, Myths & Medicine, a writer for the environmental news blog Planetsave, the host of Behind the Schemes, and Producer for the upcoming documentary The Price. When I'm not blogging about the illegal wildlife trade, I enjoy gardening, reading, designing, and rocking out to live music.

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  1. thanks for your article very informative, will circulate to other parties not on the internet.

    kevin bewick

  2. Hi Kevin –

    That would be great – thank you!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article.


  3. I was shocked to read about a 10 man gang armed with AK47’s
    raiding a farm in Limpopo and killing two rhinos for their horns.

    May I suggest a possible way to prevent this.

    1. That Rhinos even at an early age have their horn drilled and deep down
    a transponder is inserted which could be detected at border control.
    2. Word is put out that a toxic element has been injected into the horn
    which if injested by humans can be fatal.

    Something like a farmer being upset about his watermelons being
    plundered. His solution was to erect a sign that he had placed poison
    in one of them. Following day, another sign appeared which someone
    said that there were now two poisioned watermelons.

  4. I am totally shocked at the Trophy hunting going on with Professional Hunters bringing in unqualified Vietnamese gun toting barsteds in to shoot our beloved rhino. The photo of one of them standing over that beautiful dead rhino absolutely turned my stomache and my heart bled for that magnificent life that had just been brutally massacred!!!! Just reading this report tells me that Vietnam is on a total mission to order every living rhino on the African continent, they will not give up until every one has been murdered!!!
    My God what a realization, it is absolutely appalling to think these individuals will pay anything for the end result, no matter what science says they will still continue?
    I would like to thank you for showing me this write up, it has shattered me and made me honour the Conservation of the Rhino people who forge on with their fight against these savages. May God sit up and stop this anialation!!!!!!

  5. Leave a tracking Chip in the horn.(they will not know what hit them) you’ll track them down to the meter.

  6. I want to know whether the horn shown in the post is real and if not,also the other findings suggestive of fake one.In our area there are so many myths about it.Some say it lighter than cow and buffalo horn.Other say that rhino horn has characteristic smell.