How could objects such as bookmarks, face masks, and soaps contribute to the protection and conservation of one of the world’s most endangered species – the rhino?

In today’s Conservation Conversation, Peace Parks Communications Coordinator, Lésa van Rooyen, sits down with Prof Jan Staël von Holstein from Tongji University’s College of Design & Innovation in Shanghai. They unpack his long history with Peace Parks Foundation and discuss how the youth of China are using design as an instrument to raise awareness about the rhino’s plight and ultimately influence positive change within society.

Professor von Holstein’s passion for the environment and his love for nature have taken him down many different interesting paths, from working with the World Wildlife Fund to BirdLife International, not to mention his long-standing relationship with Peace Parks Foundation. After meeting with Doctor Anton Rupert, one of Peace Parks’ founding patrons, and hearing about the vision and goals of the foundation, Professor von Holstein soon became a part of an illustrious group of initial donors. Thankfully, his journey with Peace Parks didn’t end there!

Since 2010, he has been pioneering courses in brand strategy and management at Shanghai’s Tongji University, Professor von Holstein saw an unusual opportunity for a collaboration between these design students in China and Peace Parks Foundation. He hoped that these students could bring some new ideas to conservation and increase awareness amongst the older generations of how the illegal use of wildlife products in southeast Asia contributes to the extinction of species in Africa.

With the odds stacked against him, Professor von Holstein and his team began their work. It wasn’t long before the student’s creativity began gaining traction and having a significant impact in China. Some of these informative and engaging ideas that they came up with included the creation of a small plastic rhino with a detachable horn. The toy soon became popular amongst children and a mascot for rhino protection and is still being produced in various materials today. Another example includes a series of small bookmarks, which can fold into the shape of an origami rhino. When scanned with a cell phone, a website opens that gives in-depth information about the species. These bookmarks were distributed to bookshops throughout the country to help create long-term engagement and reach different audiences.

Tackling the rhino poaching crisis requires a multi-faceted approach that includes boots on the ground, counter-poaching teams, conservation organisations, law enforcement, and of course, generating as much public awareness as possible. The combination of open-minded design students in China and Peace Parks Foundation has paved the way for a different kind of thinking. A thinking whereby design and creativity help inform people about rhino conservation and ultimately contributes to protecting the species for generations to come.