Nearly 2,500 rare Indian rhino horns, worth at least $78 million in the black market, just went up in flames.
Forest department officials in the Indian state of Assam set ablaze thousands of horns weighing about 1,300 kilograms that had been seized from illegal traders and poachers, and recovered from dead rhinos since 1979 to commemorate World Rhino Day on September 22. According to the World Animal Foundation, these horns sell for an average of $60,000 per kilogram in the black market as they are believed to possess medicinal properties in some Asian cultures.
“The burning of the horns sends a strong message that they are not medicinal and have no real value,” Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, a biodiversity conservationist who runs a wildlife non-profit called Aaranyak, told VICE World News.
Myths surrounding rhino horns have resulted in a decline in the animal’s population for decades. These horns are made of Keratin, a protein found in human hair and nails. However, in countries including China and Vietnam, they are believed to cure diseases, headaches, fevers, hangovers and even cancer. These myths have made rhino horns more valuable than elephants’ ivory tusks, gold, diamonds and even cocaine, which has also led to them becoming a status symbol.
“But there is no scientific evidence of this,” said Talukdar. He added that in India, hunting rhinos can quickly turn into a security threat because their horns are regularly traded alongside arms and drugs.
Photo courtesy of Bibhab Kumar Talukdar
“Some are saying that instead of destroying the horns, we should have sold them,” Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said during the ceremonial burning. “But like the way we can’t sell seized drugs to earn revenue, [in] the same way, a government can’t earn money by selling rhino horns.”
Assam is home to 2,650 rhinos, known to be the world’s largest population of the one-horned rhinoceros, a species endemic to the Indian subcontinent, characterized by its single black horn. Rhinos are listed as endangered animals under India’s Wildlife Protection Act, making their international trade illegal. However, the law does not prohibit the destruction of these animals’ parts, such as the horn. .