The savage work of poachers once concentrated in the wild of Africa and Asia moved metropolitan earlier this month when assailants at a wildlife park near Paris fatally shot a captive rhinoceros three times in the head then sawed off the creature’s horn.
The violent attack on Vince, a five-year-old white rhino, was the first known instance of a rhino being killed in a zoo and forced zookeepers around the globe to consider increasing security.
A Czech zoo, Dvur Kralove, took that to the extreme.
It is home to 21 rhinos — Europe’s largest population — and this week began dehorning them all.
“The decision to remove rhino horns was not made easily at all,” zoo director Premysl Rabas said in a statement Tuesday. “However, the risk that the rhinos currently face not only in the wild but even in zoos is too high and the safety of the animals is our first concern.”
“The dehorned rhino is definitely a better option than the dead rhino,” Rabas said.
The zoo said it helped the Bandia reserve in Senegal dehorn its rhinos last week and the Pairi Daiza Zoo in Belgium plans do the same.
The procedure is harmless and painless, according to the Czech zoo, and involves sedating the rhinos then using a chain saw to sever the horn. The horns will slowly grow back, the zoo said.
Rhino horns are primarily made of keratin, the same material in fingernails and hair. The zoo periodically trims some of the rhinos horns but others, they said, rub them down on their own.
The horn of Pamir, a 10-year-old male rhino, was the first to go this week. The rest of the herd will follow.
After all the horns are removed, they will be taken from storage at an “area outside the zoo” and burned in public, zoo spokeswoman Andrea Jirousova told AFP.
Dvur Kralove is the only zoo in the world to successfully breed the rare northern white rhino in captivity, reported AFP. In 2009, it place three white rhinos in the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya. The male and two females are the last survivors of the subspecies, AFP reported, but aren’t capable of breeding. The zoo said it would try to take eggs from the female rhinos at Ol Pejeta, artificially fertilize them and transfer the embryos to surrogate mothers, all in an attempt to save the species.
The northern white rhino has been nearly obliterated in Africa by hunters and poachers seeking their horns. The rhino horn is a high prize in Asia, where they’re elaborately carved and used — erroneously — as a cure-all medicine for everything from cancer and high blood pressure to hangovers and impotence.
Global trade of rhino horns is banned by a United Nations convention.
There are 300 rhinos in Europe, reported ABC News, and 111 alone in Great Britain. Ninety zoos in the United States house rhinos and adhere to rigorous security standards, Dan Ashe, president and chief executive of the Maryland-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told ABC News.
“Nobody is insulated from this potential,” he said after the attacks in France. “We have made sure our members are aware of what occurred in Paris and they are quite vigilant. Everybody is sobered.”
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