Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rhino horn redux

It's bad enough that thieves have targeted museums to get their hands on rhinoceros horns, which sell on the black market for twice the price of gold, but as I've now learned zoos have also had to step up security. “Poachers in Africa either shoot the animal or anaesthetize it with a dart and saw off the horns. It is very traumatic for the rhino and they rarely survive for very long afterwards. These are organized operations with helicopters and veterinary drugs and the threat to U.K. zoos is very real. Many poachers have stolen old horn from museums or from antiques, but these have either been taken or are locked down securely. The next easiest option is for them to enter a zoo,” explains Anthony Tropeano, director of the Colchester Zoo in Essex, England, where the 7 rhinos are now protected by patrols and alarms. Prompted by reading about an incident last weekend at Colchester Zoo (an owl was killed and eaten by a lion during a display for schoolchildren), I learned about an even more disturbing event...

In June 2009, officers of the U.K. Border Agency followed up on intelligence reports about a possible plot to smuggle rhinoceros horns on a flight from Manchester to China via Amsterdam. They discovered the contraband concealed within a sculpture of a bird on a log (3rd image). The false bottom of the resin and fiberglass log contained 2 white rhino horns (2nd image) wound with cling wrap and tape. The horns were being smuggled by 62-year-old antique dealer Donald Allison, of Inglewhite, Preston. The agency matched DNA samples to blood samples at the Colchester Zoo and confirmed that the horns were those of Simba (1st image). The white rhino had been euthanized at the age of 41 in April after 30 years at the zoo due to a number of health problems. The horns were taken from Simba's body after it was sent off site to be incinerated, as required by law. The rhino's entire head had been stolen from the abattoir and sold for £400. “I am pleased that this individual has been brought to justices. The exploitation of endangered species for profit is a criminal trade and one that the U.K. Border Agency is committed to helping tackle. Had this plot been successful it would have fed demand for rare and exotic animals on the illegal world market and led to the further attempts at unscrupulous exploitation of endangered animals,” said agent Colin Brown. At a weight of almost 10kg, the powdered horns would have fetched up to £600,000 in the lucrative Chinese medicine market. Allison was sentenced to a year in prison for the foiled plan. "We are completely sickened by this horrible crime," stated zoo management in a press release.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You may add your comments here.