In 2011, wildlife conservation organizations noticed a massive spike in the poaching of rhinos around the world, leading to the extinction or near-extinction of the Javan rhino, Africa’s western black rhino, and the Sumatran rhino, after several years of stability – only 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2007, but the number grew to more than 300 in 2011.
The cause of this surge in demand? Experts traced it to a rumour circulating in Asia that an unnamed former Vietnamese prime minister had been cured of cancer by taking rhino horn. The rumour went viral over several years, and the value of rhino horn hit record highs of $60,000 a kilo. No one knows where the rumour started: it could have been seeded by the illegal rhino trade itself to spur the flagging market. But it’s a testament to the devastating power of a single idea.