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03/01/2013

Saving rhinos: by shaving their horns off?

Rhino

In this photograph taken Sept. 26, 2012, Indian villagers look at a wounded endangered one-horned rhino that was shot and dehorned by poachers near Kaziranga National Park, about 250 kilometers east of Guwahati.

Can rhinos be saved from extinction if their horns are humanely shaved of?

That is the controversial subject of a recent paper in Science journal by researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia.

In their report, the researchers argue that by humanely shaving the horns of live rhinos, the material generated could meet global demand. Rhinos grow about .9 kilogram of horn every year and scientists say that the risks to the animals from horn “harvesting” are minimal.

That way, the demand for horn could be met legally by humanely shaving the horns of live rhinos, and from animals that die of natural causes, the scientists said.

It would save rhinos from poachers.

At present in South Africa, poachers are killing two rhinos every day on an average.

It is estimated that there are around 20,000 White rhinos left now, with the majority in South Africa and Namibia. There are also an estimated 5,000 Black rhinos still alive but in South Africa, poachers are killing two rhinos every day.

Trade in rhino horn is prohibited but the article in Science says the ban is boosting illegal poaching by constricting the supply of rhino horn and driving up the price: for example, in 1993, a kilogram sold for around $4,700 but in 2012, it was selling for as much as $65,000.

South-East Asian countries like China, Vietnam and Thailand use rhino horns for traditional medicines.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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