The taste for shark fin to make soup has sparked a huge demand in recent years for the delicacy among China’s growing middle class. The sale of shark fin is not banned in China, where there’s also a market for the parts of other rare animals. Traditional Chinese medicine uses powdered rhino horn and, says the Guardian, there’s an “epidemic” of thefts of rhino horns from stuffed and mounted animals in museums across Europe.
The BBC has a photo of the now horn-less Rosie the Rhino. Rosie lived on the Indian subcontinent in the early 20th century and was acquired in 1907 by the Ipswich Museum. The museum is currently working on creating a replica horn that will be tightly screwed in place.
The powdered rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine for fevers, headache, cancer and as beauty products (used by the likes of Elle McPherson). It’s worth about $98,000 per kilogram, which is twice the value of gold. On the medicinal market, a rhino head could be worth $325,000.
In the past six months, rhino horns and heads have been stolen from museums in Portugal, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Sweden and the UK:
In February, the stuffed and mounted head of a black rhino was taken from Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex. On 27 May, a similar head was taken from the Educational Museum in Haslemere, Surrey, which has one of the largest natural history collections in the UK. Last month it was the turn of a museum in Liège, Belgium; three weeks later the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences in Brussels suffered a similar heist, in which the head of a black rhino, dating from 1827, was stolen.
As a result of the thefts, several museums and other institutions including the Natural History Museum and the Horniman Museum in south London have removed their stuffed rhinos from display, as advised by Scotland Yard and Europol.
The thefts have been attributed to a gang of “Irish ethnic origin” with a “background in violence, drug trafficking and intimidation,” says the Guardian; the stolen rhino horns and heads are then sold on the black market to “some Asian communities.” The BBC says that Europol has actually “uncovered an Irish organised crime group illegally trading rhino horn worth tens of thousands of euros as far afield as China.”
According to Save the Rhino International, there are 20,000 white rhinos in the wild and fewer than 5,000 black ones. The poaching of live rhinos is even more of a problem. Nearly 200 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in the first six months of this year, compared with 125 in the same time period last year — now, not even stuffed rhinos are safe.
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Photo by Lip Kee