09/30/2013 09:46 am ET Updated Nov 30, 2013

I'm a Little Rhino Makes a Big Difference in Species Protection

As future animal advocates, the next generation must use its voice to speak up for protecting animals from threats to their existence and well being. One way children develop that voice is through hearing stories. I'm a Little Rhino, a book written by Humane Society International for Vietnamese children, helps to spark that educational process.

Vietnamese children can play a part in how their peers, parents and extended relatives impact the lives of rhinos. Rhinos are disappearing at an alarming rate because of demand for rhino horn from Vietnamese consumers. So far this year, 688 rhinos have died at the hands of poachers in South Africa.

Vietnam has experienced an increase in demand for rhino horns because many people are under the misguided impression that rhino horn cures cancer, reduces a fever, or counteracts the ill effects of drinking too much alcohol. Yet it has been scientifically proven that rhino horn has no medicinal value-it is made of keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails.

In a delicate and fun manner, I'm a Little Rhino illustrates how rhinos are killed for their horns and the danger of potential extinction for the species. HSI is working with the Vietnamese government to distribute this book to children throughout the country.

To date, more than 1,000 copies of the book have been distributed to children in Vietnam as young as five years of age. Dr. Quang Tung, director of Vietnam Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species Management Authority, which enforces CITES regulations for species, flora and fauna in the country, explained that, "When we educate children, we also educate their parents and other family members. When we reach hundreds of children, we reach thousands of adults."

In addition to the belief that rhino horns possess curative properties, newfound wealth in Vietnam has also spurred demand, as rhino horns represent a status symbol or coveted gift. Rhino horn, however, can be dangerous to human health if consumed. Increasingly landowners, conservationists and wildlife managers in South Africa are pumping rhinos' horns full of toxic chemicals to thwart poachers. I'm a Little Rhino also explains this fact in a way that children can understand and explain to their family members.

Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for HSI said: "We are working with the government of Vietnam to encourage Vietnamese children to learn about and cherish rhinos. By stopping the demand for rhino horns we will save rhinos from extinction so that our children and future generations will be able to live in a world with abundant wildlife."

A children's book may seem like an unlikely deterrent to killing rhinos, but it's an important step. Helping educate children and the consumers of rhino horn about health hazards -- as well as the misery and deaths rhinos suffer due to poaching -- can go a long way in curbing demand and saving rhino lives.