Thursday March 16, 2017

Why is a Czech zoo sawing the horns off all its rhinos?

These rhinos at the Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic will soon have their horns cut off with a chainsaw — for their own protection.

These rhinos at the Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic will soon have their horns cut off with a chainsaw — for their own protection. (Simon Jirickova/Facebook )

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Story transcript

A zoo in the Czech Republic is planning to saw the horns off its rhinos in a bid to protect the creatures from poachers. 

"We've been considering all the options that we could take for years because … we knew that there might be threats to rhinos in a zoo," Jan Stejskal, who works at the zoo in Dvur Kralove nad Labem, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

That possibility became a reality last week when a white rhinoceros at the Thoiry Zoo outside Paris was shot to death and had its horn sawed off. 

"It was unbelievably shocking to all our members of staff," Thoiry zoo director Colomba de la Panouse told As It Happens at the time. 

If it could happen in France, Stejskal said, it could definitely happen in the Czech Republic, where illegal poaching is on the rise. Already, local museums have been plundered for rhino horns, including ones on loan from Dvur Kralove.

Rhino lying down

This rhino at the Dvur Kralove zoo won't have its big horn much longer. (Hynek Glos/Dvur Kralove zoo)

A rhinoceros horn can be sold for up to $60,000 US per kilogram on the black market, in large part because of strong demand from China and Vietnam, where the horns are used in traditional medicine and as an aphrodisiac. 

"Czech Republic has become a smuggling hub for illegal trade in rhino horn," Stejskal said. "So you cannot say for sure that someone will attack the zoo, but we cannot pretend that this could not happen."

Momma baby rhino

Calves only have little horns and will not undergo the procedure. (Hynek Glos/Dvur Kralove zoo)

While cutting off a rhino's horns with a chainsaw might sound extreme, the zoo says the procedure — for which the rhinos will be sedated — is perfectly safe. In fact, it's standard security practice when transporting multiple rhinos together.

"It's similar like you cut your hair or your nails," Stejskal said. "From a health point of view, it means nothing to them."

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Dvur Kralove has sheared its rhinos' horns before to keep them safe during transport. Here's Fatu, left, and Nabiro in 2009. (Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images)