Zoo rhino killing hints at new European avenue for poachers

March 8, 2017 by Catherine Hours
Brutal poachers on Monday killed a white rhino named Vince in a French zoo. It is the first time a European zoo has been breached in this way. Here is a handout picture of Vince, taken on March 22, 2016

This week's brutal killing of a rhino in its enclosure at a French zoo points to a new European frontier for greedy poachers that must be closed as a matter of urgency, environmentalists and officials say.

With skyrocketing Asian demand for to use in "medicine" or as a display of wealth, Europe's museums, auction houses, antique dealers and taxidermist shops have long been targets as traditional sources dry up.

In many museum exhibits, stuffed rhinos already sport fake horns to discourage thieves.

But in 2011, police agency Europol warned that zoos too, could fall prey.

Monday's killing of Vince the white rhino marked the first time a European zoo had been breached in this way.

Why rhino horn?

Despite a dearth of scientific evidence that it has any curative powers, rhino horn commands astronomical prices of about $60,000 (57,000 euros) per kilo (2.2 pounds)—more than gold or cocaine.

The highest price ever recorded by French conservation NGO Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) was 100,000 euros for a kilo of powdered horn in a private sale in China.

One horn can weigh four kilos—comprised exclusively of keratin, the same substance in human hair and fingernails.

Demand for the commodity is soaring in Vietnam and China, where it is thought to cure anything from hangovers to cancer.

Why a zoo, and why in Europe?

Wild rhino numbers are plummeting. About 1,400 are killed every year, out of an estimated population of 25,000—mainly in South Africa but also in Asia and India.

In the last eight years alone, roughly a quarter of the world population has been massacred in South Africa, home to 80 percent of surviving rhinos.

Today, it may be easier to poach in a European zoo than an African game park, where just about every rhino has its own guard.

There are about 160 rhinos in European zoos—a potential goldmine for horn smugglers.

What can zoos do to protect live animals?

According to Europol, zoos and other public places with on display or in storage, must remain on alert for "possible 'visits' from persons likely to defraud or attack them to obtain specimens."

The NGO Robin des Bois recommends ramping up zoo patrols and giving guards the right to fire warning shots.

It also wants to boost customs procedures and surveillance of postal services to stop the horns, whose sale is illegal everywhere, from ever reaching the Asian market.

Education is also needed to convince possible consumers that rhino horn does not have any of the healing powers it is credited with.

Another worrying development is a rise in the theft of live animals from European zoos in the last 15 years— anything from monkeys and flamingos and penguins, according to Robin des Bois spokeswoman Charlotte Nithart.

"If this first blow (for zoo rhinos) is not followed with rigorous security measures, it is certain to be repeated in another zoo in France or in Europe," she told AFP.

Explore further: White rhino killed by poachers at French zoo

Related Stories

San Diego zoo burns $1 mn worth of rhino horn

September 8, 2016

Rhino horns worth around $1 million were to be burned on Thursday at the San Diego Zoo in a bid to raise awareness about the endangered species decimated by poachers.

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.