The astounding horn symbolizes the Rhino. Among other uses, it may influence mate choice, be used in defense of territory and in the protection of calves. Composed of keratin (like your nails) and hair, horn is worth more than gold, more than cocaine. It is falsely claimed by Chinese and Vietnamese medicine to have curative properties.
Poaching has increased dramatically over the past few years pushing the Rhino towards extinction. Removing the horn has helped to some extent to stem the numbers of Rhinos poached. But sadly, even dehorned Rhinos are sometimes poached because the small stub left after dehorning is worth a huge amount. Horn is worth $65,000/kilo (2.2 pounds). An ounce is worth over $2,000!
Poachers uproot the entire horn from its base under the skin, in the bone. Sometimes the top of the head is removed leaving the Rhino defaced, liable to infection, blood loss and death. To be safe, dehorning must be done professionally by a vet. In addition, security and anti-poaching measures are essential if this is to be effective. Although the sanctuaries use a safe method to dehorn, this process still poses some risks: anesthesia, prohibitive cost, and because it regrows, it has to be repeated every 1-2 years. 90% of the horn is removed above the growth layer of the skin—like trimming a fingernail. This prevents infection and bleeding allowing the horn to regrow normally. Another difficulty is that pregnant cows cannot be darted safely. Poachers often kill pregnant females with nursing calves. Ultimately, dehorning is only a last resort used because of the severe poaching threat. And then there’s the question of what to do with the horns—legalize, harvest and sell, or keep trade illegal?