Spate of rhino horn thefts from museums continues - Museums Association

Spate of rhino horn thefts from museums continues

Demand for rhino horn as alternative medicine leads to break-ins
Ipswich Museum has become the latest to be targeted by a criminal gang stealing rhino horns. At the end of July, thieves broke into the Suffolk museum and hacked off a rhino horn from a stuffed exhibit and stole a separate rhinoceros skull.

Earlier in the month, a stuffed rhino head was stolen from the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences in Liège, Belgium.

The Metropolitan Police said there had been at least 20 incidents of rhino horn theft from museums, auction houses and private collections across the UK and Europe during the first six months of 2011.

According to law enforcement agency Europol, the recent spate of thefts is the work of an Irish gang. Rhino horn is worth more than £50,000 per kilo – more than diamonds, gold and cocaine.

Its value is fuelled by claims that it can cure cancer and reverse the effects of a stroke. This has led to a rise in the illegal poaching of rhinos in the wild.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has now called for an international clampdown on the illegal sales of rhino horn and tighter restrictions on the trade in rhino products.

Museums have been advised to remove rhino horn from display. Paolo Viscardi, natural history curator at the Horniman Museum, London, said horns on taxidermy displays could be replaced with artificial casts.

“This isn’t an easy solution – it’s expensive and I’m sure lots of people won’t agree with it – but museums have to be as vigilant as possible against this ongoing problem,” he said.

Viscardi added that arsenic traditionally used in taxidermy meant that horns might be harmful if consumed.

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