A zoo in the Czech Republic announced Tuesday that it plans to preemptively remove the horns from its herd of rare rhinos. The decision comes a week after poachers broke into a French zoo, shot dead an endangered white rhino and hacked off its horn. As extreme as it sounds, the surgery could be potentially lifesaving. “It’s for the sake of rhino safety,” Andrea Jirousova, spokeswoman for the zoo in the central Czech town of Dvur Kralove nad Labem, told AFP. “The attack put us on alert, the danger is really intense.”

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The March 7 death of 4-year-old Vince from Thoiry Zoological Park outside Paris sent shockwaves through the wildlife community. Experts say that the animal’s death likely marks the first time a rhino has been killed in a zoo. The message the tragedy sent was chillingly clear: No living rhino, not even one held in captivity, is safe from poachers.

The Dvur Kralove zoo currently houses 21 black and southern white rhinos, including three calves who will be excluded from the surgery. At up to $60,000 per kilogram, rhino horn sells more on the black market than gold or cocaine. Most of the demand for horn comes from China and Vietnam, where it’s prized for its purported medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.

Related: Poachers broke into a French zoo to kill a rhino and steal its horn

Jirousova said that the rhinos would be kept under anesthesia for the procedure, which involves removing the horns with a chainsaw, then filing down the edges. The move, she added, is entirely unprecedented.

“We have never done this because of poachers,” Jirousova added. “We did it for other reasons like transport or health concerns.”


Photos by Flowcomm and Son of Groucho