San Diego Zoo on Thursday (8 September 2016) burned around $1m (£750,000) worth of illegal rhino horns destined for the black market to raise awareness about the extent of the poaching industry. In a ceremony to prove that the US is "committed to ending the scourge of wildlife trafficking", the zoo set fire to confiscated rhino horns, ivory objects and other items falsely labelled as medicine.
The symbolic event was a result of a partnership between the popular zoo and the San Diego Zoo Global and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and arrived ahead of World Rhino Day (22 September 2016).
There are currently only 20,000 white rhinos and 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild. According to the zoo, rhinos are poached around once every eight hours. If this continues, they expect the animal to be completely extinct by around 2030.
The demand for rhino horns comes from the false belief that the material they are made out of is keratin, the same material that forms human fingernails, has medicinal benefits. Despite no scientific proof to back this up, rhino horns are still used to produce remedies said to cure cancer and even act as an aphrodisiac.
Douglas G Myers, president and chief executive officer, San Diego Zoo Global, said: "San Diego Zoo Global has been working for decades, along with other accredited zoos, to keep a sustainable population of rhinos safe under human care while also working to protect them in their native habitats.
"We felt this loss firsthand with the loss of the northern white rhino, Nola, last year. Because of Nola, because the northern white rhino is now effectively extinct due to poaching, and for all rhino species, we will continue to work diligently to ensure the survival of these incredible animals."
Service Director Dan Ashe added: "The poaching of rhinos in Africa is an international tragedy that is pushing these magnificent creatures to the brink of extinction. The transience of the smoke we see today from the burning rhino horn reminds us of the fragility of the planet's most imperilled species.
"Their survival hangs in the balance and will continue to do so as long as people are buying and selling illegal wildlife products. Only a rhino needs a rhino horn, and it's time we all understood that."