Indian Officials Burn Nearly 2,500 Rare Rhino Horns Worth $78M in Anti-Poaching Message

Nearly 2,500 rare rhino horns were set ablaze in Assam, India yesterday in honor of World Rhino Day. The act, said some, served as a "clear" anti-poaching message to the world.

Vice estimated that the horns would have been worth at least $78 million on the black market.

According to AP News, the horns had been in government custody for decades and were collected from a variety of sources. Some came from rhinos who died of natural causes at Kaziranga National Park—the world's largest habitat for the one-horned rhino—while others were confiscated by poachers.

Government officials in Assam ceremoniously burned the horns in a sports stadium near Kaziranga in a public display against poaching.

A video posted to Twitter by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation showed flames engulfing the stacks of horns.

"Today is #WorldRhinoDay and to mark the occasion, the government of Assam has taken bold steps to burn around 2,500 rhino horns," the foundation tweeted. "This extraordinary step sends a clear message that rhino horns possess no medicinal properties and that the killing of rhinos is unacceptable."

The IUCN Red List classifies the one-horned rhino as "vulnerable." Though the International Rhino Horn Trade was banned in 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Al Jazeera reported that poachers still target the species. This is because countries such as China and Vietnam believe the horns can heal a variety of ailments.

The World Animal Foundation said that on average, a rhino horn is worth $60,000 per pound in Asia. In other words, a rhino's horn is more valuable than gold, diamonds and cocaine.

"Some are saying that instead of destroying the horns, we should have sold them," Assam's chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said during the ceremony, according to Vice. "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."

By burning the horns, he further explained, Assam was making the statement that the horns held no medicinal value.

"A rhino horn has supreme value only when it is intact to the living rhino," Sarma said, Al Jazeera reported.

According to the International Rhino Foundation, more than 2,300 one-horned rhinos call Assam's Kaziranga National Park home. This population represents nearly 70 percent of "all the wild rhinos left in India and Nepal."

Though armed forest guards have been stationed there to protect the rhinos, AP News stated that poachers still successfully manage to kill some of them.

The Hindu reported last month that, since 2017, 22 Assam elephants had been killed by poachers. The outlet also said that officials arrested 644 poachers in the state as of June 1.

Burning rhino horns
Seized rhino horns burn on a furnace in an anti-poaching drive to mark World Rhino Day near the Kaziranga National Park in Bokakhat on September 22. The nearly 2,500 horns were estimated to be worth $75 million on the black market. BIJU BORO / Contributor/Getty