Harare - Authorities in Zimbabwe, where the rhinoceros population is under threat from poachers, have launched a massive dehorning exercise, reports said on Thursday.
The horns of black and white rhinos are coveted by poachers who can sell them to dealers for use as dagger handles in the Middle East and for traditional medicine in Asia.
"We want poachers to know that if they kill any rhino in Zimbabwe, they will not find any horns," Henry Madzikanda, the chief ecologist in the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management told the state-controlled Herald newspaper.
A team of experts from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Zimbabwe's Parks Department are to carry out the exercise on more than 780 rhinos, starting in southeastern Zimbabwe, Madzikanda said.
Earlier this month, official reports said at least 40 black rhinos had been killed for their horns in state wildlife parks and private conservancies over the past three years.
Zimbabwe has been hit by a huge increase in poaching following the launch of a controversial land reform programme seven years ago that saw the forcible takeover of white-owned farms, many of which had private game sanctuaries on them.
The parcelling out of land in some wildlife reserves and ranches to peasant farmers by district land committees is continuing.
But Madzikanda told the Herald the country's rhino population was safe. We are keeping them all in highly secured places for our future generations, he said.
An unprecedented economic crisis in the country that has seen inflation spiralling to a national record of more than 3 714% and worsening poverty has also caused an increase in poaching by people struggling to survive.
Zimbabwe's black rhino population came close to extinction in the 1980s at the hands of poachers from neighbouring Zambia. In the 1990s, many of the animals were moved from the Zambezi Valley to game reserves on private land inside the country to avoid poaching.