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Thousands of rhino horns kept in government custody for decades are burned at an event to mark World Rhino Day in Bokakhat near Kaziranga National Park, north-eastern Assam state, on September 22, 2021. Image Credit: AP

GAUHATI, India: Indian officials burned about 2,500 old rhino horns on Wednesday to spread awareness of the need to protect the rare animal on World Rhino Day.

Dozens of Hindu priests performed rituals and chanted prayers as the top Assam state elected official, Himanta Biswa Sarma, lit the fire on a large platform in a sports stadium near the famed Kaziranga National Park.

The horns, which had been stored for years, were from rhinos that died of natural causes at Kazaringa and other smaller habitats across Assam state and those confiscated from poachers.

Kaziranga is home to nearly 2,500 one-horned rhinos and is the world’s largest habitat for the rare animal. Armed for-est guards protect the rhinos, but poachers still manage to kill some of them.

Rhino horns are sold by poachers in South Asia, China, Vietnam and some other countries because of a belief that they contain an aphrodisiac and medicinal properties. Sale of the horns is illegal in India.

“Trading in rhino horns must stop and the claim of these horns having medicinal properties is false,’’ Sarma said.

Sarma decided to burn the horns to create more awareness about the need to protect one-horned rhinos and end poaching, said M.K. Yadava, Assam’s chief wildlife warden.

Sarma said: ‘’We want to give a strong message to the world that the rhino alive with the horn on its head is precious to us, and not a dead animal with its pride removed by poachers or those kept in the government treasuries.’’

“A section of people have questioned us why we are burning the horns when it can be sold and the government could earn revenue. I ask them is it right to sell kidneys when people are ready to pay huge amounts for them,” he asked.

The chief minister argued that since the horns have no proven medicinal values, allowing them to be sold tantamounted to cheating people and encouraging poaching.