Thu, Aug 11, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Rhino horn heist in UK highlights EU-wide crime wave

Reuters, LONDON

Wedged between a woolly mammoth and a giraffe, Rosie the stuffed rhino may seem an unlikely target for crime.

However, like the fate that threatens many of her living relatives, the 100-year-old creature has had her horn stolen in a wave of rhino horn heists that is spreading across Europe.

Thieves broke into the Ipswich Museum in Essex, England, just after midnight and took off with Rosie’s horn and a black rhino skull displayed nearby.

“They wrenched the horn off Rosie — it probably only took them five minutes to take it and leave. They knew exactly what they wanted and nothing was else was taken,” Max Stocker at Ipswich Council said.

Thefts of rhino horns, highly prized in the Far East for their decorative and purported medicinal purposes, have been reported by museums across Britain and Europe.

Many of the thefts are the work of an organized crime group who are diversifying their activities away from drug trafficking and money laundering to cash in on the high prices the rare commodity can fetch, according to European law enforcement organization Europol.

“Significant players within this area of crime have been identified as an Irish and ethnically-Irish organized criminal group, who are known to use intimidation and violence to achieve their ends,” Europol said in a statement.

However, for the Ipswich Museum, the theft has destroyed a “much-loved exhibit” which has been on display since 1907, after curators swapped a wild boar for Rosie in an exchange with London’s Natural History Museum.

“It’s not about a financial loss for us. We’ve lost the figurehead of the museum. Our visitors can’t believe that the horn has just vanished,” Stocker said.

Rhino horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of a wide range of maladies, despite the fact that the use of the substance in medicine has been proven ineffective.

However, Rosie’s horn could contain a nasty surprise for anyone wanting to use it for medicinal purposes.

“The horn may well be worthless because of the possible presence of arsenic in the horn. Preservers used a whole cocktail of chemicals to preserve the animals — arsenic may well have been absorbed into the horn during this process,” Stocker said.

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