Nearly 2,500 rare rhino horns have been destroyed in the first ceremony of its kind in northeastern India as part of an anti-poaching drive to mark World Rhino Day on Wednesday.
The endangered one-horned rhinoceros used to be widespread in the region but hunting and habitat loss have slashed its numbers to just a few thousand, with most now found in India’s Assam state.
Trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
But conservationists warn poaching attempts continue amid demand from China and Vietnam, where rhino horn is promoted as a wonder ingredient in traditional medicine.
“A rhino horn has supreme value only when it is intact to the living rhino. These horns have no value,” Assam’s Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said during the ceremony in the town of Bokakhat on Wednesday.
“With today’s action, Assam wants to send two messages – that we don’t believe that rhino horns have any medicinal value and that we only believe in preserving the living rhinos.”
The town is near the UNESCO-listed heritage site Kaziranga National Park, home to more than 2,000 one-horned rhinos – the world’s biggest population.
At the ceremony, horns were carefully placed in layers in several large furnaces before being set alight, sending plumes of smoke into the air above fierce orange flames.
The animal parts, which contain keratin, the same protein as in human hair and nails, had been kept in storage by the government since 1969.
Some of the horns had been seized from poachers. Others were removed from rhinos that had died of natural causes.