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The U.S. State Department has announced a five-year bilateral partnership with Vietnam to combat wildlife trafficking.

The annoncement was made as U.S. President Barack Obama visits the Southeast Asian country this week. Both the U.S. and Vietnam are identified as destination countries for trafficked wildlife products.

The Venerable Thich Nhat Tu, a representative of Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, leads "The art of balance and happiness" talk in Ho Chi Minh City. (Photo: WildAid-Vietnam)

The Venerable Thich Nhat Tu, a representative of Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, leads “The art of balance and happiness” talk in Ho Chi Minh City. (Photo: WildAid-Vietnam)

From the announcement via State.gov:

The United States and Vietnam recognized that the illegal trade in and illegal consumption of wildlife and wildlife products are threatening the world’s irreplaceable biodiversity and adversely impacting communities and economies around the globe. Both countries acknowledged that wildlife trafficking is a transnational criminal enterprise that generates billions of dollars of illicit revenue annually, threatens national security, undermines the rule of law, and facilitates the spread of emerging infectious diseases. (Read the full statement here.)

International commercial trade in rhino horn is illegal, and rhino horn consumption is banned in Vietnam. But rhino horn consumption in this nation of nearly 90 million people has spiked in recent years. Surveys conducted by WildAid and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) shows 75 percent of those surveyed believe rhino horn has health benefits while 61 percent believe it can help cure diseases, including rheumatism (32 percent of respondents believe this) and cancer (38 percent). It’s also used as a hangover remedy among the elite. Despite these uses and purported benefits, rhino horn is primarily composed of keratin, the same protein found in human hair and fingernails.

In 2013, WildAid and AWF teamed up to launch the “Say No to Rhino Horn” campaign, a demand-reduction initiative, in partnership with the Vietnamese nonprofit CHANGE. The campaign has the support and cooperation of the Vietnamese government as well as some of the country’s leading CEO and media companies.

Our campaign activities have included:

  • Working with Vietnamese actors and singers to bring the “Cuu te Giac” (“Save the Rhino”) message to the nation through social media campaigns and concerts. Vietnamese-American actress Maggie Q has also been a leading voice for rhinos in Vietnam.
  • Bringing together CEOs and entrepreneurs who have made public pledges never to buy, sell or give as a gift any rhino horn. In September, WildAid and AWF hosted a dinner with Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, that was attended by the nation’s business elite.
  • Producing and distributing powerful campaign ads that show the sickening truth of how rhinos in Africa are needlessly killed for their horns.
  • Hosting medical conferences with leading doctors and cancer patients to debunk myths of rhino horn’s potency. You can watch poignant testimony from a cancer patient on this issue from a WildAid/AWF conference in the video below.

This article originally appeared on AWF

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