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Poachers Kill White Rhino In French Zoo, Saw Off Horn


We're accustomed to hearing terrible stories about poachers in the African bush who slaughter rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks. But this week, attackers struck at a zoo west of Paris. They broke in and killed Vince, a 4-year-old white rhino, and sawed off his horn. Now in Asia, especially Vietnam and China, rhino horn is falsely thought to be an aphrodisiac, a cure for cancer and general health enhancer. We are joined now by CeCe Sieffert who's deputy director at the International Rhino Foundation. Thank you very much for being with us.

CECE SIEFFERT: Thank you so much for having us on today.

SIMON: Help us understand how valuable - financially, I'm afraid - rhino horn is.

SIEFFERT: To tell you the truth, we don't put a price on rhino horn for a few reasons. One, you know, we can't give an exact price because it's an illicit object. It's an illegal product to trade. And in all honesty, our organization doesn't discuss the value because we don't want to sort of continue this belief that it has some value.

SIMON: But presumably, so valuable people were willing to undertake this terrible and, in many ways, risky act to get it.

SIEFFERT: Yeah. Rhino horn is valuable enough that people go to great lengths, but it's because it's used as a status symbol. But that status symbol is a fallacy because poaching is not an honorable act, you know? There is no honor and respect in poaching because it only supports the organized crime networks that are currently running poaching gangs, and it steals from the communities that benefit from coexisting with wildlife.

SIMON: How endangered are rhinos in the wild?

SIEFFERT: Well, there are five species of rhino, and all five species are endangered right now. There are two species in Africa - the white rhino and the black rhino. And there are three species in Asia. The greater one-horned rhino lives in India and Nepal. And there are two species that live only in Indonesia. Their populations have shrunken to such a small degree that there are fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos and approximately 60 Javan rhinos, and that is all of those rhinos in that entire species.

SIMON: Ms. Sieffert, are there efforts underway to try and reduce the demand for rhino horn in spots around the world or maybe make the trade less valuable?

SIEFFERT: Yes. Demand reduction efforts are underway in Vietnam and China, which are the two countries that have the highest demand. And it's a range of educating people about how poaching causes the death of rhinos and could cause the extinction of the species.

We're also reaching out to medical practitioners to educate that rhino horn does, in fact, have no medical value. It's the equivalent of chewing your own toenails. Rhino horn is made of keratin, which is the same protein we have in our hair and fingernails, and it is misattributed to have medical properties.

SIMON: Should zoos around the world that have rhinos be on alert?

SIEFFERT: Zoos around the world should be on alert. I think all rhinos are under threat whether they're in zoos or in the wild. Unfortunately, we are at the critical point right now in the poaching crisis where there are some rhino populations that are being poached faster than the births are replacing those deaths. And so if the trend continues, we might lose rhinos in our lifetime. And I think that would be a tragedy.

SIMON: CeCe Sieffert of the International Rhino Foundation, thanks so much for being with us.

SIEFFERT: Thank you so much.


SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.