Clarissa Hughes

General Giap and the demand for rhino horn

I was intrigued to hear Adam Welz of WildAid speak out on a pivotal point in the rise of demand for rhino horn in Vietnam. He said a rumour started that General Giap, a general in the Vietnam People’s Army, owed his long life to the use of rhino horn. I think there is more to it.


Many people have long and fruitful lives so why would the Vietnamese imagination pick out this individual?

The answer lies in the role that General Giap played in three wars that he fought.

According to Wikipedia he served as the military leader of the Viet Minh resistance against the Japanese occupation of Vietnam in World War II. He then went on to command Vietnamese troops in the First Indochina War against France, and later the Vietnam War against the U.S.A.   All three – Japan, France and the U.S.A. – were regarded as occupying nations. In other words they were unwanted by the Vietnamese and seen as invaders of Vietnamese sovereignty.

What’s so intriguing is that people reached back into their phyletic memory for a symbol of General Giap’s enduring resistance and came up with the rhino, an animal that exhibits the same qualities as the General in that in its mature form it’s immune to predation.

Both General Giap and rhino are seen as resilient fighters, resistors.

But then there’s the current spin on the story. Where rhino and General Giap are symbols of the Vietnamese’s own historical sense of durability and invulnerability the Vietnamese have now become the invaders of Africa, exterminating our rhino, our heritage in their efforts to shore up their own self image.

The Vietnamese are in the same boat as the nations they so despised for violating their sovereignty in the last century.

WildAid is doing a great job in getting the message of the effects of rhino horn demand across to the Vietnamese. Perhaps a historical or military angle in the next advertisement will bring the message home with a clunk.

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