Zoo burns $1M in rhino items in 1st US bonfire of its kind

In this photo provided by the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, flames consume confiscated rhinoceros horn items in a fire pit at the Park in Escondido, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Officials burned the items with an estimated black market value of $1 million in a symbolic gesture to show the United States is committed to ending illegal wildlife trafficking. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the zoo and California Department of Fish and Wildlife to hold the massive bonfire of items. (Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Safari Park)

The San Diego Zoo burned items containing rhinoceros horn with an estimated black market value of $1 million in a symbolic gesture at its San Pasqual Valley Safari Park Thursday to show the U.S. is committed to ending illegal wildlife trafficking.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the zoo and California Department of Fish and Wildlife to hold the massive bonfire, the first of its kind in the United States.

Countries around the world have been burning and destroying illegal wildlife products to send the message that such products cannot be traded and that poaching of animals for their horns must stop. In April, 120 tons of elephant ivory and 1.3 tons of rhino horn were destroyed in Kenya.

San Diego zoo officials on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, burned items containing rhinoceros horn with an estimated black market value of $1 million in a symbolic gesture to show the United States is committed to ending illegal wildlife trafficking.

San Diego zoo officials on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, burned items containing rhinoceros horn with an estimated black market value of $1 million in a symbolic gesture to show the United States is committed to ending illegal wildlife trafficking.

The items — from carved horns to products falsely marketed as having medicinal qualities from the horns — were confiscated in the U.S. and outside the country, zoo spokeswoman Darla Davis said.

Officials say a rhino is poached every eight hours in Africa and they could become extinct in the wild in 15 years. In 2015, 1,175 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone, according to the San Diego zoo. More than three rhinos are killed on average per day for their horns — a rate that could cause them to go extinct within 15 years, officials said.

“Despite erroneous claims of its medicinal value, rhino horn — which is made of keratin, the same material that forms human fingernails and hair — has no demonstrated pharmaceutical benefits,” San Diego Zoo officials said.

“Yet demand for supposed remedies that range from cancer treatments to hangover cures is driving unprecedented poaching. In addition, objects made of rhino horn have more recently become a status symbol, a display of success and wealth,” officials said.

Rhino horn is the EXACT same substance as toenails and hair, according to US Fish and Wildlife officials.

Rhino horn is the EXACT same substance as toenails and hair, according to US Fish and Wildlife officials.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill to close a loophole in the state’s ban on importing, buying or selling elephant ivory or rhino horns. Supporters said California is a major market for ivory, and the ban would help dry up demand.

The measure by Democratic Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego aimed to end the state’s exemption for selling ivory imported before 1977. She said clamping down on the illegal ivory trade would help bring an end to the poaching of elephants and rhinos.

San Francisco and Los Angeles make up two of the country’s top three hubs for ivory sales. New York, which wildlife officials call the country’s biggest ivory market, banned the sale of most elephant ivory, mammoth tusks and rhinoceros horns last year.

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