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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

To Dehorn, Or Not To Dehorn?

The recent killing of the white rhino Vince from the Thoiry Zoo and Wildlife Park outside of Paris has set many European zoos on edge.  In an effort to remove any trace of temptation from would-be poachers, one Czech zoo has opted to dehorn its rhinoceroses. The rhinos are sedated and the horns are taken off with a chainsaw.  Twenty-one animals... that's a lot of horn in one zoo and would have made quiet a hull for any ambitious poacher.

The procedure is painless, horns, again, being a mass of keratin... the same stuff as our fingernails and hair.  The decision has been a controversial one within the zoo community.  Some zoo figures raised concern that removing the horns prevents rhinos from exhibiting all of their species-specific behavior.  That's true... but we do plenty of other things in the name of animal management that prevent some behaviors - feather-clipping storks and cranes to prevent them from flying out of open-top enclosures, for instance.  Others think that it's an admission of defeat that we must avoid, as it would send a "wrong message" (I'm never sure what that even means).

At any rate, no one wants to do this... it's just that the staff at Dvur Karlove Zoo would rather come in in the morning than a bunch of slaughtered rhinos.

 A zookeeper removes the horn of a southern white rhino named Pamir at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic. Simona Jirickova / Dvur Kralove Zoo via AFP - Getty Images

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