Police in France are tracking a rash of rhinoceros horn robberies. The latest Hollywood-like heist took place earlier this week in Paris. Why rhino horns? Among other values, they are prized in Asia for their supposed medicinal properties.
PARIS – The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris was the scene earlier this week of something right out of a Hollywood heist movie. Early Tuesday afternoon, robbers sprayed tear gas at museum guards, dashed upstairs and snatched a white rhinoceros horn from its display. They sped off in a getaway car before police could make it to the scene.
Just days before, in another tear-gas attack, an elaborately carved rhinoceros horn vessel was lifted from a Paris gallery. Neither case surprised French investigators. Since the beginning of the year, authorities here have been recording incidents that amount to an organized hunt for rhinoceros horns. Other targets have been museums in Rouen, Ile d'Aix and Blois, and an auction house in Toulouse.
In total, robbers have snatched nearly two dozen rhino horns in France this year. Colonel Stéphane Gauffeny, who heads the Central Office for the Fight against Traffic in Cultural Goods (OCBC) head-quartered in Nanterre, near Paris, warns: "These are very well organized and very active criminals."
Europol in The Hague shares Gauffeny's assessment, saying that across Europe – in the UK, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria and Sweden -- rhinoceros horns have recently been stolen from museums, auction houses, antique shops and private collectors. This summer the organization issued a warning to member states recommending that police authorities check for "possible targets' and warn them of possible visits by suspicious persons.
The Irish connection
According to the organization, those responsible for the thefts are a well-connected – and violent -- band of Ireland-based criminals also active in other areas such as drug dealing and money laundering.
In many East Asian countries, and particularly in the practice of Chinese medicine, rhino horn powder is considered a powerful means of fighting fever, migraine, poisoning, epilepsy, cancer –even flagging libidos. Depending on its size and quality, a rhino horn can be worth between 25,000 and 200,000 euros, according to Interpol.
Meanwhile, owners of European zoos and safari parks are afraid they could soon be targeted as well. The Frankfurt Zoo has already increased security measures, while the Serengeti Park in Hodenhagen, Germany, has invested in new cameras, steel doors and other items to protect its animals.
Paul de la Panouse, founder of a wild animal park and zoo in Thoiry, west of Paris, is worried about his three white rhinos, and has increased security guard shifts. "As soon as they've emptied our museums, we start to run the danger that they will start killing animals."
Read the full story in German by Stefan Ulrich
Photo – ukhomeoffice
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