Trade in Horns Could Save Rhinos—Or Wipe Them Out.

But experts worry legal schemes can't overcome poaching and illegal profits.
Rhinos graze in the bush on the edge of Kruger National Park in South Africa, October 1. In South Africa, rhinos are worth more dead than alive.
12_02_Rhinos_01 Source: Denis Farrell/AP

Wobbling left, then right, the 2-ton animal stumbles and starts to fall. Twelve pairs of hands are there to ease it toward the dusty orange earth. A man wearing a blue work suit quickly straps an eye mask over the now sedated beast; another slips in a pair of massive earplugs. A few measurements are taken, and then the reciprocating saw comes out. A worker turns it on and presses the whirring blade against the base of the rhino’s nubby horn, and white chips go flying.

Within a couple of minutes, the horn cleanly pops off, leaving behind a teardrop-shaped pattern of pink, white and black keratin—a biological material also found in hair and nails. Mission completed, Michelle Otto, a wildlife veterinarian, gives the rhino an injection—an antidote to the sedative she darted it with 10 minutes earlier. The team scrambles into two pickup trucks, and the rhino—its nose now sporting a stubby plateau rather than a peak—stumbles to its feet and trots off.

This procedure might strike an outsider as strange, but for workers here it’s nothing exceptional. Located 100 miles outside of Johannesburg in South Africa, the nearly 20,000-acre property, owned by a man named John Hume, is the world’s largest rhino ranch

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