One hundred and forty young leaders from South Africa, the United States, Vietnam, and 17 other countries came together for the inaugural World Youth Rhino Summit from September 21-23, 2014 at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal. Youth delegates discussed the current rhino poaching crisis with conservation leaders, and developed their own agenda to stop the burgeoning international wildlife crime trade. Activities included traditional music, dancing, and poster art – combined with conservation education and awareness campaigns. The summit was organized by various stakeholders including Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Project Rhino KZN, the Kingsley Holgate Foundation, and the American International Schools network, with major funding provided by the United States Government.
Newly arrived U.S. Consul General in Durban, Frances Chisholm, addressed youth at the closing ceremony. She outlined U.S. support for anti-poaching efforts in South Africa and across the continent, while exhorting delegates to take responsibility for ensuring that rhinos and other threatened species survive to enrich the heritage of future generations.
This event marked a unique collaboration between the U.S. Consulate in Durban and the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam, to sponsor a group of six Vietnamese middle and high school students to attend the summit in South Africa. The students, chosen through a nationwide art competition, worked with their African peers to address the rhino poaching crisis and develop solutions needed to stop burgeoning wildlife crime.
The U.S. government, through its embassies and consulates worldwide, actively promotes President Obama’s February 2014 National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking. In Vietnam and in the Republic of South Africa, these efforts are part of Operation Game Change – a program that focuses on demand reduction for rhino horn and, in collaboration with the Government of Vietnam, boosts Vietnam’s role in tackling this international problem. As of September 2014, 558 rhinos have been slaughtered in South Africa. No scientific evidence exists that rhino horn, comprised of keratin which forms finger nails and hair, has any scientific or medicinal value.