The recent rise in rhino horn robberies in Europe is believed to be the handiwork of a single organized gang, which is also involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.
During the last six months, at least 20 rhino horn thefts have taken place in Europe.
The crime wave is driven by the continued use of illegal rhino horn in China and parts of Southeast Asia (particularly Vietnam), where it is mistakenly believed to be a remedy for everything from fevers to cancer.
However, rigorous scientific studies conducted independently by separate institutions have determined that rhino horn has absolutely no medicinal value.
Investigations conducted by Europol revealed the involvement of a mobile Organised Crime Group (OCG) of Irish origin, which is specializing in the trafficking of illegal rhino horn.
Europol warned that members of this OCG are known to source rhino horn from auction houses, museums, antique dealers, art galleries, private collectors and zoo displays.
The Irish OCG is active in the EU, UK, France, USA, South America, South Africa, China, and Australia.
Two Irish citizens are currently in a US prison for attempting to purchase rhino horn in an undercover operation in Colorado.
Rhino killings in South Africa
The museum thefts are also connected to the killings of more than 200 rhinos in South Africa this year, continuing a sharp increase which began in 2008.
According to data compiled by the European Union (EU) for CITES, there is a direct link between the “growing affluence in many traditional consumer States”, the escalating prices in antique rhino horn – and the rising death toll of rhinos in South Africa.1
The report noted that “pre-convention specimens” of rhino horn purchased in the EU typically had re-export destinations of China, Thailand and Taiwan.2
Disturbingly, the PBS television program “Antiques Roadshow” failed to make this connection.
Instead, the show celebrated the appraisal of a set of antique rhinoceros horn cups.
(There has so far been no response to requests for PBS to issue a public service announcement linking antique rhino horn prices to rhino killings in South Africa.)
Not only is rhino horn devoid of any curative properties, antique rhino horn poses an especially serious health hazard to the end user, as it was often preserved with toxic chemicals, such as arsenic.
Last year, the CITES Secretariat warned that ingesting antique rhino horn could be deadly.
It is worth noting that the risks for the eventual consumers of such horns may be significant, since arsenic was previously commonly used in taxidermy procedures and this chemical may still be inside the horns.
The horn of “Rosie the Rhino”, recently stolen from Ipswich Museum in Suffolk, is said to have been treated with a “cocktail of chemicals”.
But it’s not just antique rhino horn that can make people sick, as a woman in Vietnam found out recently when she used rhino horn (obtained illegally, of course) to treat a skin condition.
After consuming rhino horn, the woman’s condition worsened. She went to Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, where Dr.Nguyen Huu Truong advised her to seek medical treatment, instead of rhino horn.
Photo #1 © iStockphoto.com; image #2 © Saving Rhinos LLC
1, 2. European Union and its Member States. “Proposal by the European Union (EU) and its Member States for the 61st meeting of the CITES Standing Committee.” (2011) CITES. Geneva, Switzerland.
Rhishja is the founder of Annamiticus, a nonprofit organization which provides educational information and news about wildlife crime and endangered species. She is the Editor of the blogs Annamiticus, Rhino Horn is Not Medicine, and Project Pangolin, a Producer for the upcoming documentary "The Price", author of the book "Murder, Myths & Medicine", and host of the "Behind the Schemes" podcast. When Rhishja is not blogging about the illegal wildlife trade, she enjoys rocking out to live music.