San Diego Zoo to destroy $1M of illegal rhino horn products

SAN DIEGO - In response to a significant drop in the population of rhinos in the wild, U.S. Fish and Wildlife along with the San Diego Zoo are taking action to save the endangered species and they’re asking for the public’s help.

Rhinos were once found throughout Asia and Africa, but in recent years their numbers have dwindled due to poaching putting the species in danger.

“At that rate, with 1,300 dying, and a combined total of 25,000, we’ve got less than 20 years at this pace to keep them around on our landscapes,” said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Program Officer Dr. Michelle Gadd.

Gadd is at the San Diego Zoo trying to save the species. There are 30 rhinos in San Diego at the San Diego Safari Park.

Gadd says very few rhinos survive outside protected areas. In recent years, the poaching has increased due to the demand for rhino horn medicines, statues or even accessories.  The demand is not just in places abroad like Asia, but in the United States, including California.

“We now see that that trade is not minor. It’s a very major trade. And it is exceeding the ability of wild African rhinos and Asian rhinos to replenish themselves,” said Dr. Gadd.

Gadd says despite laws on the books to make the sale and import of these products illegal, they are still in high demand and that’s where she says we can all do our part to help save the lives of these animals.

“Don’t buy it. If the buying stops they won’t have to be killed and moved across international borders for market. So don’t be a part of the problem,” Dr. Gadd said.

Gadd says all of the products both donated and seized by officials will be taken to the San Diego Safari Park and burned Thursday.

Thursday morning, U.S. Fish and Wildlife will take a haul of donated and seized products to the Safari Park, and burn them. Ashes and other material left over from the burn will be sent to the National Wildlife Property Repository in Colorado.

World Rhino Day will be celebrated on September 22 at the San Diego Zoo and at the San Diego Safari Park.

UPDATE [Thursday, Sept. 8 at noon] - Here's video of the rhino products being burned: