Czech Republic and Slovakia spark new global initiative with rhino horn burning ceremony

In South Africa, we have lost 769 rhinos so far this year, and there is no indication that the rhino poaching crisis is coming under control. ©Zdenek Cermak / Zoo Dvur Kralove

I will be there this Sunday, on the eve of World Rhino Day, when the Czech Environmental Minster, Richard Brabec, watches 70kg of seized illegal and stockpiled rhino horns is set alight at the Dvur Kralove Zoo.

At the same time the same thing happens at the Bratislava Zoo in Slovakia as the governments of both unite in this “symbolic gesture” to highlight the need for more stringent efforts to save the world’s rhinos from extinction.

And believe me this is actually much more than a “symbolic gesture”.

Burning highly-priced wildlife products from endangered species instead of stockpiling them in speculation of some future profits, is a highly responsible act.

  • First of all it reflects that the current owners highly value the long-term survival of the species over possible short-term profits.
  • Second, it places greater value on the animals alive than having their parts reduced to commodities on an international market.
  • And third, it turns these wildlife products into a means to highlight the need for more stringent efforts to save the world’s rhinos from extinction.

I will be on the ground in Dvůr Králové representing IFAW, who is partnering with the Czech authorities, for this ceremony. The event is part of a globally coordinated effort to deter consumers from using rhino horn, with zoos and reserves on three continents to join the effort to burn rhino horn, or to organise ceremonies to sympbolise their support.

  • Under the auspices of the Czech Minister of Environment, Richard Brabec, the major burning of rhino horns will take place in Dvůr Králové Zoo this Sunday, 21st September, just a day before the World Rhino Day, at 11 am (“at the eleventh hour”). Under armed customs supervision, close to 70 kilograms of rhino horn will be ignited by conservationist Tony Fitzjohn from Tanzania.
  • CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon and Member of European Parliament Pavel Poc - who is a co-author of the IFAW framed EP resolution on wildlife crime - will also share the podium along with myself. The Slovak Republic will participate in the campaign through its Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Finance (Customs Unit). Slovakia will burn seized horns at the same time in the State controlled Zoo Bojnice.
  • The event has been given global significance with a number of reserves, animal parks and zoological gardens joining in the efforts in their own countries; for example in Port Lympne (United Kingdom), Doué-la-Fontaine (France), Wroclaw (Poland), Tallinn (Estonia), Bratislava (Slovakia) and Plzen (Czech Republic), simultaneous events will be held to raise awareness on the plight of rhinos. Some of them will also burn rhino horns in memory of poached rhinos.
  • Kenyan Ol Pejeta Conservancy, East Africa’s largest black rhino sanctuary, will open a rhino cemetery for all rhinos killed by poachers over the last years as part of the event.
  • In Asia, the Wildlife Reserves of Singapore will launch a month-long campaign including an exhibition of Sumatran rhino photographs, a public seminar on the plight of rhinos, and a booth in Singapore Zoo highlighting that rhino horn is just keratin (material of human hair and nails) and does not have medicinal value. At this booth, visitors will be requested to clip their nails as a pledge to not buy or use rhino horn products. Excellent!

And we hope others will follow these good examples, as the fate of the world’s few remaining rhinos is a matter of urgency.  We are at a time of unprecedented poaching and trafficking in all sorts of endangered species - with rhino horn being one of the highest prized wildlife products. As if it is not enough that whole populations become victims to these poachers, often the individual animals die in horrible agony. Pictures of rhinos (or elephants) with their faces being hacked off alive by machetes or chainsaws can keep me awake at night.

Therefore, it is vital that these ceremonies convey their powerful message about the urgent need for global efforts to succeed in ending illicit trade in parts of already imperilled species, and to ensure that any restart of such trade in the future will not be tolerated.

The Czech government,  the Dvůr Králové Zoo and all the other partners should be saluted for taking a firm and public stand against rhino horn trafficking. Just imagine, in South Africa we have lost 769 rhinos so far this year, and there is no indication that the rhino poaching crisis is coming under control.

South African Threat

The ceremony however has come under the shadow of recent South African government announcements that they want to propose legal trade in rhino horn at the next meeting of the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) CoP (17).

This is almost ironic, the country who has admirably managed to host the biggest conglomeration of rhinos in the world, suffering now under terrible poaching waves, considers re-opening international trade in rhino horn.

As Jason Bell, IFAW’s Southern Africa Director highlighted in his recent blog, the view that putting rhino horn back into the marketplace through legal means as part of a sustainable use approach, is wholly counter-intuitive. There is nothing sustainable about the current rhino crisis.

RELATED: So this is how South Africa values its rhinos?

What’s more, even in economic terms, their arguments fall flat. Economic models purported by South African resource economists and local businessmen have been thwarted, according to analysis in peer-reviewed publications.

Learn more: Read IFAW’s report, Horn of Contention, about the economics of trade in endangered wildlife in general and on rhino horn in particular.

Ivory Crushes

The burning ceremony follows in the line of a series of events around the world where stockpiles of wildlife products like elephant ivory were destroyed, as keeping them would fuel the wrong intentions and just be counterproductive.

SEE ALSO: Belgium’s elephant ivory crush will create ripples throughout Europe

This initiative will keep the momentum going and help in creating a better world for animals and people.

We at IFAW will continue to support it and call on others who have rhino horn—or other wildlife products from endangered species— to destroy their stockpiles and show the world that wildlife conservation of and not trade in these animals shall be the guiding theme for the 21st century.


For more information about IFAW efforts to protect wildlife from illegal trade, visit our campaign page.

For more information about the Burn Horns, Save Rhinos effort, visit their website.

Take a look a this alarming infographic on poaching from the South African rhino population below:

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy