GAUHATI, India (AP) — 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 Kaziranga 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 forest 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.
The park is 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Gauhati, the Assam state capital.