What drives the demand for rhino horns?

Should we accept that Vietnamese medicinal demand for rhino horns is traditional, and inevitable? Those who stockpile horns think so - see the better options below.

A Rhinoceros in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, 2010. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

By Nicky Reeves - 0

Reports in February that the South African government was considering lifting the 2009 domestic moratorium on trade in rhino horns brought into focus something that is not necessarily obvious to those outside of that country: there currently exist in South Africa numerous large stockpiles of rhino horns, nearly all legal, all potentially extremely valuable.

Farming Rhinos

Some stockpiles come from rhinos who have died of natural causes, others are contraband seized at customs or confiscated from poachers, and many arise from dehorning programmes undertaken by both government and individuals. Rhino farmers in South Africa dehorn their rhinos to discourage poaching and therefore protect the endangered species, but breeding and dehorning rhinos also creates a potential cash crop.

Conserved, inventoried, often micro-chipped and secured in strong rooms and safes, rhino horns are stockpiled largely because of their future market value. That future value rests on an assumption that the current high demand for rhino horn, predominantly for use in Vietnamese medicine, will continue indefinitely, and cannot be overcome or countered. That assumption itself rests in part on characterising the demand for rhino horns as “traditional”.

No one disputes that medicinal and recreational use of rhino horn, mostly in Vietnam, is directly responsible for high levels of poaching in southern African countries, which continues to threaten the species with extinction. But while it is true that rhino products are mentioned in a variety of traditional Vietnamese medicine texts, the scale of the Vietnamese market has risen hugely over the past 15 years: this demand is a modern phenomenon. Influenced in part by rumours of a prominent senior government official being cured, sick and dying cancer sufferers and their families are directly targeted by unscrupulous vendors. In addition over the past decade and a half rhino horn has become, a party drug, a health supplement, and a hangover cure – a luxury product conspicuously consumed by newly wealthy elites.

extreme rhino closeup; full face on, a dehorned rhino looks directly at the viewer in the left hand side of the frame.  The right hand side is filled with the rhino's body.

2010, White Rhinos await buyers in pens at the annual auction in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi national park. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/REUTERS

It is often argued that (as with other high-demand products such as narcotics) regulation rather than prohibition is the best solution, and one that will best safeguard animal and human welfare, and habitat. This argument rests on an assumption that the Vietnamese market is far more culturally established than it in fact is. The contemporary medicinal consumption of rhino horn is presented as a traditional practice that people are culturally committed, indeed almost obliged, to perpetuate.

Rhino horn: a modern fad?

The fact that rhino horn medicine lacks scientific or medical validity leads rather too quickly to an implication that its consumption must be “traditional” (‘medieval’ is another variant). However, the world is full of beliefs and practices which are irrational, superstitious, or without scientific validity, but that does not mean that they are necessarily traditional: they can be all these things and still be modern or even post-modern, perhaps high-tech, and without historical precedent.

It is often the case that promoters of a medicine or foodstuff might have an interest in giving it a historical or traditional pedigree, but such claims need to be critically assessed rather than uncritically reproduced. Believing in the restorative or curative properties of the so-called palaeo diet, for instance, is clearly a belief held by parts of our modern society, and is a recent invention. It would be odd for us to claim that the palaeo diet is traditional, and it would be even more odd for us to claim that if it is traditional it will always exist: the palaeo diet is very obviously both modern and a fad.

Devastating as it is to the welfare and survival of rhino species, the Vietnamese market for rhino horns is both faddish and reversible. Education and marketing campaigns that try to make its consumption socially unacceptable are as achievable in Vietnam as campaigns were the UK to make once popular practices like as drink-driving socially unacceptable. This has been done for rhino horns before: in the 1970s and 1980s, the Yemeni demand for rhino horn dagger handles also had a devastating effect on rhino populations in southern African countries. A mixture of legal measures and social pressure, sometimes from the highest levels of the Yemeni state, coupled with awareness campaigns about harm done to rhinos in the wild, were fairly effective in making the practice of gifting daggers with rhino horn handles socially unacceptable. Whether rhino horn dagger handles were “traditional” or not, it was clearly possible to confront the practice.

Open pale grey metal tin from which a large rhino horn, covered in sticky labels, emerges.

Destined for destruction, not storage: this rhino horn, confiscated by Vietnamese authorities, was part of a consignment of more than 2 tons of ivory and horns destroyed in 2016. Photograph: Hau Dinh/AP

There are many good arguments for both ending the stockpiling of rhino horns and for destroying current stockpiles. Given that this is not happening, we should ask who it is that has an interest in ensuring the perpetuation of a Vietnamese demand for rhino horn. Vendors, traffickers and poachers, of course, have an interest in the market continuing. A 2012 report in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy made the intriguing and worrying suggestion that a speculator lawfully stockpiling large quantities of wildlife commodities might have an interest in “depressing” wild stock in order to maximise profit: banking on extinction in the wild, in other words.

Having a monopoly on supply is one way of controlling a market, but maintaining demand is also crucial. Who is currently speculating in rhino horn stockpiles, and why? Confronting and correcting the belief that modern faddish behaviour and the peoples who engage in it are amodern, traditional, or incapable of change, would be helpful in reducing demand for rhino products, but those who farm and stockpile might have reason to present rhino horn consumption in Vietnam as a more established and venerable practice than it in fact is.

The biggest problem with farming rhinos for the far-East market of their horns is actually that it maintains the trade, the myth and thereby the demand for the horns.

There is the much better woking VIAGRA and similar substances, but in addition here are the best options:

13 Alternatives to Viagra That Won't Fall Flat

By:Sayer Ji, Founder - 19. July 2014

13 Alternatives to Viagra That Won't Fall Flat

Viagra is a multi-billion dollar blockbuster drug, but it has serious side effects. Thankfully evidence-based natural alternatives abound...

Erectile dysfunction is no trivial matter. In fact, Dr. Mercola correctly labeled it 'the canary in the trousers,' insofar as dysfunction 'where it counts' reflects body-wide endothelial dysfunction, a well known precursor to cardiovascular disease.

But putting aside its importance for overall health, the male ego depends in large part on the ability to 'get it up,' and when things don't work out as planned, quite a lot can go wrong as far as intimacy is concerned. It has been said that when sexual issues emerge in a relationship, they take on 90% importance, but when they aren't an issue, they only figure 10% in the overall success of the relationship.

Men, especially in the 35-45 range, also are faced with what is known as andropause, as the levels of key 'erotic' hormones such as testosterone and human growth human start to take a precipitous decline.

The pharmaceutical industry has capitalized heavily on this 'change of life' phase, with Viagra taking on a 'pole position' for several decades.  But these pharmaceuticals have severe, if not sometimes deadly side effects. All the more reason why natural alternatives are in great need today.

Alternatives to Viagra

So, what does the 'hard evidence' itself have to say on the topic of natural alternatives. Take a moment to look at what we have found:

  • L-arginine:

    • #1 on the list is the amino acid l-arginine. A precursor to nitric oxide, this conditionally non-essential amino acid is especially important in times of trauma or stress. What makes is 'conditionally essential' is that while the body can normally produce adequate quantities, during times of stress (including burn trauma), the body is unable to produce sufficient quantities, at which time supplementation is of key importance. Also, when the arteries undergo what is called 'endothelial dysfunction,' and are incapable of dilating sufficiently, adding additional l-arginine can correct the condition by inducing nitric oxide up-regulation, subsequently increasing blood flow, which can lead to resolution of cardiovascular dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction. We have indexed no less than six clinical studies on l-arginine, either alone or in combination with another nutraceutical, indicating it can contribute to a reversal of erectile dysfunction. You can view the studies here.
  • Pycnogenol:

    • This amazing substance has a wide range of health benefits. In fact, we have indexed over 80 evidence-based health applications here. When it comes to erectile dysfunction, pycnogenol figures as a profound synergist, working to amplify the benefits of l-arginine to the point where two separate clinical studies found the combination highly effective and safe in resolving erectile dysfunction.[1][2]
  • Panax Ginseng:

    • This amazing Asian herb has been used for thousands of years to increase stamina and longevity. There is now a sizable body of scientific evidence supporting its traditional folkoric use, with a 2008 meta-analysis of the extant research on the topic, which looked at 7 randomized clinical trials to ascertain its value in erectile dysfunction, concluding: "Collectively these RCTs provide suggestive evidence for the effectiveness of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction."[3]
  • Maca:

    • this South American tuber, both a food and medicine, and long identified as a means to increasing fertility and libido in both men and woman, was found in a 2009 clinical trial to have a significant effect "...on subjective perception of general and sexual well-being in adult patients with mild ED."[4]
  • Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia):

    • Like most traditional herbs, Tongkat Ali has had a variety of traditional uses, including as an "antimalarial, aphrodisiac, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, and antipyretic [fever-reducer]."[5] As far as its libido enhancing properties, two preclinical trials have found it effective in the animal model at improving sexual performance, confirming its aphrodisiacal properites.[6],[7]
  • Saffron:

    • this sacred spice, highly prized as both a culinary ingredient and medicine, has been studied to have significant effects in reversing erectile dysfunction at doses of 200 mg a day. A 2009 study found: "Saffron showed a positive effect on sexual function with increased number and duration of erectile events seen in patients with ED even only after taking it for ten days."[8]
  • Yohimbe:

    • This potent herb has been found effective when combined with l-arginine to improve erectile dysfunction. A 2002 study concluded: "oral administration of the L-arginine glutamate 6g and 6 mg yohimbine combination is effective in improving erectile function in patients with mild to moderate ED."[9] [Warning: Yohimbe and its active ingredient yohimbine is a potent nutraceutical with possible severe side effects such as hypertension. It is advisable to use it only under the guidance of a physician or medical herbalist to avoid possible side effects, especially if already using prescription drugs.]
  • Tribulis:

    • This potent herb has libido enhancing properties for both men and women. We recently featured a study showing it helps women to increase their libido. The preclinical research on male libido is promising, with no less than three studies indicating its benefits for erectile dysfunction.[10],[11],[12]
  • Green Tea:

    • A highly provocative animal study from 2008 indicates that green tea may address both the origin of erectile dysfunction by diminishing atherosclerotic progression in the corpus cavernosum of the male rat penis, subsequently indicating improvement in both erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular health.[13] This is, in fact, not the first study to show that green tea can correct endothelial dysfunction.[14]
  • Exercise:

    • One of the best ways to improve your body image, self-esteem, and sexual vitality is through exercise. A 2009 study found that physical inactivity contributes to erectile dysfunction – essentially a no-brainer.[15]
  • A Sense of Humor:

    • Living life with a negative attitude, especially when afflicted with a health condition, doesn't reflect well as far as sexuality is concerned. A remarkable 2008 study found that viewing humorous films in patients with atopic dermatitis leads to short-term improvement of erectile dysfunction.[16] While we don't know for sure if this study extends to everyone with the condition, it is instructive, perhaps, to look at a degree of levity and light-heartedness as an essential precondition to alleviating some degree of sexual dysfunction.  Sex should be fun, right? So lighten up by increasing you humor and joy, whenever possible.

  • AVOID Anti-Depressants:

    • Perhaps surprisingly, antidepressant drugs have been found to be a major cause of sexual dysfunction. A 2006 study found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), e.g. Prozac, Paxil, are associated with sexual dysfunction in 95.6% of women and 97.9% men.[17] What a misnomer! What could be more depressing than killing your sexual desire with a pharmaceutical Band-Aid?

Ultimately, sexual dysfunction begins in the brain. Nothing can eliminate a dysfunctional relationship or a lack of intimacy that often follows from it. While natural interventions exist – Ginseng, Arginine, Tribulus, etc. – it should be remembered that that erectile dysfunction stems from more than just physiological issues. A lack of desire may reflect a lack of appreciation for one's own self, body image, or sense of sensuality. Nonetheless, it is good to know that alternatives to pharmaceuticals like Viagra exist, and are evidence-based, safer and time-tested. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that the 'canary in the trousers' often reflects cardiovascular dysfunction body-wide, and the best way to address that is through a radical transformation of the diet, focusing on a grain and dairy-free ancestral diet rich in high nutrient, low carbohydrate vegetables, tubers and fruits and berries, as well as high quality natural fats and protein sources that are consistent with our biological heritage. 




[1] Andrea Ledda, Gianni Belcaro, Maria R Cesarone, Mark Dugall, Frank Schönlau. Investigation of a complex plant extract for mild to moderate erectile dysfunction in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-arm study. BJU Int. 2010 Feb 22. Epub 2010 Feb 22. PMID: 20184576

[2] Hiromitsu Aoki, Junji Nagao, Taro Ueda, Jeffry M Strong, Frank Schonlau, Song Yu-Jing, Yan Lu, Shigeo Horie. Clinical assessment of a supplement of Pycnogenol® and L-arginine in Japanese patients with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction. Phytother Res. 2012 Feb ;26(2):204-7. Epub 2011 May 27. PMID: 21618639

[3] Dai-Ja Jang, Myeong Soo Lee, Byung-Cheul Shin, Young-Cheoul Lee, Edzard Ernst. Red ginseng for treating erectile dysfunction: a systematic review. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2008 Oct;66(4):444-50. Epub 2008 Jun 9. PMID: 18754850

[4] T Zenico, A F G Cicero, L Valmorri, M Mercuriali, E Bercovich. Subjective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) extract on well-being and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Andrologia. 2009 Apr;41(2):95-9. PMID: 19260845

[5] Bhat, R; Karim, AA (2010). "Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack): a review on its ethnobotany and pharmacological importance". Fitoterapia 81 (7): 669–79. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2010.04.006. PMID 20434529.

[6] P Zanoli, M Zavatti, C Montanari, M Baraldi. Influence of Eurycoma longifolia on the copulatory activity of sexually sluggish and impotent male rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Nov 12;126(2):308-13. Epub 2009 Aug 22. PMID: 19703544

[7] Hooi Hoon Ang, Kheng Leng Lee, Matsumoto Kiyoshi. Sexual arousal in sexually sluggish old male rats after oral administration of Eurycoma longifolia Jack. J Basic Clin Physiol Pharmacol. 2004;15(3-4):303-9. PMID: 15803965

[8] Ali Shamsa, Hossein Hosseinzadeh, Mahmood Molaei, Mohammad Taghi Shakeri, Omid Rajabi. Evaluation of Crocus sativus L. (saffron) on male erectile dysfunction: a pilot study. Phytomedicine. 2009 Aug;16(8):690-3. Epub 2009 May 9. PMID: 19427775

[9] Thierry Lebret, Jean-Marie Hervé, Philippe Gorny, Manuel Worcel, Henry Botto. Efficacy and safety of a novel combination of L-arginine glutamate and yohimbine hydrochloride: a new oral therapy for erectile dysfunction. Eur Urol. 2002 Jun;41(6):608-13; discussion 613. PMID: 12074777

[10] P G Adaikan, K Gauthaman, R N Prasad, S C Ng. Proerectile pharmacological effects of Tribulus terrestris extract on the rabbit corpus cavernosum. Ann Acad Med Singapore. 2000 Jan;29(1):22-6. PMID: 10748960

[11] Sung Chul Kam, Jung Mo Do, Jae Hwi Choi, Byeong Tak Jeon, Gu Seob Roh, Jae Seog Hyun. In vivo and in vitro animal investigation of the effect of a mixture of herbal extracts from Tribulus terrestris and Cornus officinalis on penile erection. J Sex Med. 2012 Oct ;9(10):2544-51. Epub 2012 Aug 20. PMID: 22906304

[12] Kalamegam Gauthaman, Adaikan P Ganesan. The hormonal effects of Tribulus terrestris and its role in the management of male erectile dysfunction--an evaluation using primates, rabbit and rat. Phytomedicine. 2008 Jan;15(1-2):44-54. PMID: 18068966

[13] D Neves, M Assunção, F Marques, J P Andrade, H Almeida. Does regular consumption of green tea influence expression of vascular endothelial growth factor and its receptor in aged rat erectile tissue? Possible implications for vasculogenic erectile dysfunction progression. Age (Dordr). 2008 Dec;30(4):217-28. Epub 2008 Apr 18. PMID: 19424845

[14] Greenmedinfo.com, Green Tea Corrects Endothelial Dysfunction

[15] Johanna L Hannan, M Tina Maio, Marina Komolova, Michael A Adams. Beneficial impact of exercise and obesity interventions on erectile function and its risk factors. J Sex Med. 2009 Mar;6 Suppl 3:254-61. PMID: 19170860

[16] Hajime Kimata. Short-term improvement of erectile dysfunction by viewing humorous films in patients with atopic dermatitis. J Sex Med. 2008 Sep;5(9):2107-10. Epub 2008 Feb 4. PMID: 18266651

[17] Anita Clayton, Adrienne Keller, Elizabeth L McGarvey. Burden of phase-specific sexual dysfunction with SSRIs. J Affect Disord. 2006 Mar;91(1):27-32. Epub 2006 Jan 20. PMID: 16430968

(*) Author:

Sayer Ji

Sayer Ji is founder of Greenmedinfo.com, a reviewer at the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Co-founder and CEO of Systome Biomed, Vice Chairman of the Board of the National Health Federation, Steering Committee Member of the Global Non-GMO Foundation.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

This article is copyrighted by GreenMedInfo LLC, 2019