Fake rhino horns, anyone? That’s all thieves who broke into a British museum have to show after a misguided robbery early on Saturday.
The thieves were seeking valuable rhino horns that can be sold in illicit markets for their purported aphrodisiac and medicinal use, but they left with worthless replicas instead.
Officials at the Natural History Museum at Tring had replaced the real horns with replicas after a recent surge in rhino horn thefts at museums, galleries and auction houses in Britain and Europe.
Police believe organized crime gangs using mainly smash-and-grab techniques are behind the rash of rhino horn thefts.
“We have been made aware of approximately 20 thefts of rhino horn from museums and auctions houses across the UK and Europe in the past six months,” Ian Lawson, a Metropolitan Police detective specializing in arts and antiques said.
“We have been made aware of incidents in the UK where premises that have rhino horn on display have been subject to hostile reconnaissance,” he said, advising museums to consider removing authentic rhino horns from public viewing.
Rising demand for the horns and a crackdown on the illegal trade of them have made rhino horns extremely valuable. UK officials say the real horns sought by the thieves on Saturday would have been worth about ￡240,000 (US$391,000) on the open market.
The museum, located 48km northwest of London in Hertfordshire, was closed on Saturday while police investigated and museum workers repaired display cases. It planned to reopen yesterday.
A museum spokeswoman who asked not to be identified because of security concerns said the replicas, made of resin, were put in place as exhibits three months ago as a precaution.