Nearly half of South Africa’s rhinos were killed by poachers last year, and a private army is working hard to protect the remaining animals. Rhinos are hunted almost exclusively for their horns, so John Hume opened a rhino ranch of sorts where he could harvest horns from live rhinos without harming them. A hornless rhino is not an attractive target for a poacher, and Hume and other farmers fought for years to overturn the ban on selling rhino horns so farmers could legally profit from their livestock.

Rhino horns, thought by some to cure cancer and other diseases, are powdered and sold on the black market for over $1700 per ounce or more than $27,000 per pound. Selling the horns, or their powder, was illegal in South Africa until very recently when a court lifted the ban in December after rhino farmers argued that the ban unfairly limited their income potential. The decision now awaits government appeals. Meanwhile, Hume and his fellow rhino farmers will turn their attention to breaking down barriers that block international trade of the horns.

Related: South African court lifts ban on selling rhino horns

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Hume recently told National Geographic that his farm is home to around 1,160 of the giant animals, which means he owns more rhinos than any other farmer in the world. With so many animals, horn harvesting happens year round. Hume has been carefully stockpiling them for years. He now has around four tons of rhino horns in storage without causing the death of a single rhino. Rhinos on the protected farm are anesthetized before their horns are removed. Since they are made primarily from keratin – the same substance in human fingernails – the procedure is a bit like an enormous manicure executed with a giant saw.

Hume argues this business model can meet market demand without harming the individual animals or threatening the survival of the species. Black market rhino products, he says, are all made from dead rhinos – because poachers kill the animals in order to harvest their horns. Replacing the market supply with horns from live animals, who can regrow horns just like our nails grow after a trim, is a much more sustainable approach.

Via The Citizen

Lead image via Fight For Rhinos