Distinguished Chinese celebrity, Mr Ma Weidu, visits South Africa to learn about the rhino crisis facing the continent

Johannesburg, South Africa: Prestigious antique expert and host of online talk show, Guanfu Dudu in China, Mr Ma Weidu, recently visited South Africa for an educational experience that took place from 1 to 4 June. Representatives from Investec Rhino Lifeline and WildAid hosted the group from Beijing, giving them the opportunity to witness the rhino in its natural habitat and hear first-hand from experts dedicated to saving them. 

The Investec Rhino Lifeline project was established in 2012 to raise awareness through education, rescue and demand reduction. In 2015, Investec partnered with Wilderness Foundation on a similar educational trip to urge Vietnamese youth ambassadors to reduce demand in that critical consumer country. Also recognising the significance of the Chinese market, Investec Rhino Lifeline chose to partner with WildAid to inspire Mr Ma Weidu to use his extensive influence to reach the critically relevant market of antique collectors in China. The possession of a rhino horn is often seen as a status symbol in the East and only the extremely wealthy can afford to purchase it for medicinal value. The ability to appeal and move an audience that is not only wealthy, but that also comprehends the antique status of a rhino horn, is vital for demand reduction to be effective.

During his visit, Mr Ma participated in an anti-poaching demonstration and assisted passionate wildlife vet, Dr Peter Rogers of Provet Veterinary Services as he carried out a DNA and tagging procedure on an adult male white rhino. These complex and highly risky procedures are vital in the effort to track and protect these animals from increasingly sophisticated poachers.

The group also visited the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) to see the rhinos that have been orphaned or injured from brutal poaching attacks. The rhino poaching epidemic that hit South Africa in 2008 placed the survival of the species at extreme risk and made the extinction of rhino a distinct possibility. This outcome was inconceivable for HESC who responded by opening its doors to injured and orphaned rhino with the ultimate aim of releasing them back into a safe wild environment at the appropriate time. 

Tanya Dos Santos, Head of Investec Rhino Lifeline, believes this is a watershed moment for the project’s objectives, “We are pleased to have found passionate partners in both WildAid and Mr Ma Weidu, who are prepared to face the immense task of sharing this significant message that the senseless killing of people and animals needs to stop.” It is vital to educate consumers about the properties of rhino horn and raise awareness about the resultant devastating impact on rhino populations. 

The campaign does not end with this event. Mr Ma and WildAid have committed to take these insights and the content produced back to China, and to share it through various platforms to reach Mr Ma’s extensive audience and the general public. “Our hope is that through the gravitas of Mr Ma’s message and the extent of his following, we will be able to amplify our plea that when the buying stops, the killing can too,” says Mr Steve Blake at WildAid.

Mr Ma Weidu concludes, “In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would touch a rhino. It's an incredibly moving experience to see such a powerful animal so completely vulnerable. It is going to take a long time to change centuries of deep held beliefs and entrenched Chinese culture. But we are committed to this partnership and the important role of telling people in China that rhino horn does not have any magical functions and to stop buying rhino horn”.

This campaign was supported by Investec Rhino Lifeline and WildAid in partnership with Camp Jabulani and Cathay Pacific in order to deliver this important demand reduction message in China and South Africa.