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San Diego Zoo Burns $1M Worth Of Seized Rhinoceros Horn Products

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) --  The San Diego Zoo hosted a massive bonfire Thursday to burn confiscated rhino horn products estimated to sell for $1 million on the black market. But it is two other California cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, that top the list of the United States' main hubs for ivory sales, coming in just behind New York.

The San Diego Zoo partnered with both federal and state officials for Thursday's burn.

The rhino horn bonfire was the first of its kind in the United States, but similar bonfires have already been held in other countries. While this is the first burn of rhino horns in the U.S., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already publicly crushed more than 7 tons of elephant ivory.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe said the burning of rhino contraband was to "raise awareness about the plight of species throughout the world and the fact that they are suffering from an epidemic in illegal wildlife trafficking."

Ashe said the poaching of rhinos in Africa is pushing rhinos to brink of extinction.

"Only a rhino needs a rhino horn, and it's time we all understood that," Ashe said.

The burning of rhino horn products at the San Diego Zoo comes on the heels of a new California law that prohibits the sale or purchase of rhino horn and ivory products.

According to the San Diego Zoo, there are only 20,000 white rhinos and 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild and that every eight hours a rhino is poached in Africa.

If rhino poaching continues at this rate without interruption, rhinos could become extinct in the wild in 15 years, according to zoo officials.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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