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November 18, 2015

"Little Rhino" Helps Spread the Word

Humane Society International

  • Adam presenting "I'm a Little Rhino." Viet Nam CITES Management Authority

We asked Adam Peyman, program manager for HSI's Wildlife department, about his travels to Viet Nam and the book he helped create to spread the word about saving rhinos.

Q: There are so many wildlife abuses. Why is rhino poaching a priority for HSI?

A: With about 27,000 rhinos left in the wild, and poaching rates continuing to increase in South Africa — where most of the world’s rhinos live — these animals are facing the very real threat of extinction in the coming decades.

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Q: Tell us briefly about the genesis of "I’m a Little Rhino" – the book, and now the film. How did you get the idea, how did you implement it? What will be its distribution?

A: My department director, Dr. Teresa Telecky, had the idea to produce a children's book as an outreach tool. She authored one and asked if I could illustrate it. We ended up producing the book and thankfully the kids really loved it! Now, about 1.5 million children have received a copy and we’ve since developed an animated program based on it as another way to reach more children nationwide. See the book/watch the video!

Q: What is the goal of "I’m a Little Rhino"? Why did you decide that reaching out to schoolchildren was the way to save rhinos?

A: The goal of “I’m a Little Rhino” is to educate children about rhinos in general, and introduce the threat that poaching poses to their survival. It also explains that rhino horn is not effective as medicine and encourages them and their families to avoid buying or using rhino horn.

Children are, of course, the center of any society, and the next generation of consumers. By cultivating compassion for wildlife in children at a young age, we can ensure that demand for rhino horn will continue to decrease in the future. In addition, by giving the books to children, who take it home and show it to their parents and family, we can continue to spread the message indirectly.

Q: You have traveled to Viet Nam to promote this campaign. Tell us about your trips.

A: At each primary school event I attended while in Viet Nam, I had the opportunity to ask the students questions after reading the book to them, and I was consistently impressed with their grasp of the issue and their compassion for rhinos. I think that children have an innate love of animals, and it is not difficult to spark their interest and enlist their help to save them. The art produced in the drawing contests that were held was incredibly poignant; indicative of both an understanding of the plight of rhinos and the desperate need for global cooperation to ensure they survive for years to come.

Q: Tell us more about the campaign overall. Besides schoolchildren, who else do you aim to involve?

A: HSI has an agreement with the Viet Nam Management Authority for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which is part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, but we also worked with the Ministry of Education and Training as well as local Departments of Education and Training to engage schools and universities on the issue of rhino conservation and rhino horn demand reduction.

In addition to primary schools and universities, our campaign engaged two other stakeholder groups: Women’s Unions and business owners. Women’s Unions are particularly powerful in Viet Nam, and we participated in workshops attended by district representatives that would introduce our campaign messages, which the representatives brought back to their districts and held their own outreach events. This methodology of amplification has allowed our campaign to spread the messages to tens of millions of people.

Q: What is your prediction for the future of the sale of rhino horn in Viet Nam? Do you think we can reduce demand in time to save these animals?

A: I think that the key to reducing demand starts with broad outreach, but reaching children is a real way to enact transformational change in a society. When awareness of the issue is raised in a younger generation, they will grow up to not only avoid rhino horn, but also make strides toward saving rhinos and other imperiled species. I do believe that while our campaign has had some impact already, the real change will occur as these children grow into adulthood and are part of a more compassionate and conservation-minded public.

Q: Give us an anecdote that stands out from your trips.

A: I have attended many primary school events, and each time the children are so friendly and happy to participate. Many times, I give the children high-fives as I am leaving the schoolyard. But at one event in the city of Nha Trang, a little boy ran up and hugged me! It was surprising but touching, as I knew that the lesson that day had really reached him.

Q: I hear a rumor that “I’m a Little Pangolin” is next. Can you confirm?

A: We actually have three other books in the “I’m a Little…” series: Pangolin, Elephant, and Tiger! I am now working on the illustrations for the “I’m a Little Tiger” book. We are working with our contacts in Viet Nam for the distribution of these new books, so stay tuned! Please support our life-saving campaigns, and sign the pledge — Don't Buy Wild.

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