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article image€500,000 Rhino exhibits stolen from Irish museum were uninsured

By Robert Myles     Apr 19, 2013 in World
Dublin - On the night of April 17, rhino heads and horns estimated to be worth €500,000 were stolen by a masked gang of raiders who broke into Ireland’s National Museum Archives. It now transpires the rhino heads and horns were not insured.
Three masked thieves are reported to have broken into the archive storage building of Ireland’s National Museum on Balheary Road, Swords in the Irish capital, Dublin, says BBC News.
Following the break-in at around 22:40 BST, the gang are said to have tied up a security guard before loading a haul of four rhino heads, each with two horns, into a white van. The alarm was raised later after the unharmed security guard freed himself.
The theft from the storage facility came after the rhino exhibits had been removed from public display in March 2012 following a number of thefts of ivory and rhinoceros artifacts from museums and galleries across Europe.
Just three weeks ago, Digital Journal reported on a similar case involving an attempted theft of ivory from an elephant exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. On that occasion the thief, who was caught soon after the break-in, removed the elephant’s tusks with a chainsaw.
Following the latest theft of the rhinoceros artifacts, estimated to be up to 100 years old, gardai (Irish police) have sealed off the crime scene and set up an incident room at Swords garda station. The rhinoceros horns had previously been on display at Ireland's Museum of Natural History premises at Merrion Street in central Dublin but had, like similar displays at other European museums, been removed from public display more than a year ago due to security concerns.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Keeper with the National Museum, Nigel Monaghan said yesterday, "We took a decision a couple of years ago, largely on garda advice and also from monitoring the traffic internationally, following a steady rise of theft of rhino horn. The pattern was to smash and grab, even when the museums were open, and we did not want to put the public at risk. The horns were in the CRC for the last year. They would be powdered up and sold in the medicinal trade in the east, and would be worth about €500,000."
On the question of insurance of the valuable specimens, Mr Monaghan admitted that the high value horns were not insured.
"Generally, the museum would insure items which are sent on loan to other institutions. Generally, state heritage is not covered by insurance because you'd be spending a fortune on insurance premiums. They were not insured. We would hope that the rhino heads are recovered . . . Unless you've got connections to the Far East trophy heads would normally fetch a couple of thousand euro."
Medicinal myths
Black Rhinos in Ngorongoro Crater  Tanzania -  a Red List critically endangered species
Black Rhinos in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania - a Red List critically endangered species
Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons
In the Far East, rhinoceros horn is much sought after by some practitioners of Chinese medicine who believe it holds healing, and even aphrodisiac, properties. As the numbers of rhinoceros in the wild has declined primarily due to illegal poaching, so thieves have turned to museums to source a lucrative but illegal trade in rhino artifacts. In 2012, says the Irish Independent, in excess of 660 rhinoceros were killed in South Africa, home to more than 80% of the African continent’s rhinoceros numbers. The World Wildlife Fund is now alarmed that the continued cull of rhino in the wild could tip some species of rhinoceros into extinction.
Nothing remarkable but worth more than gold
Although rhinoceros horn is said by some to have mythical healing properties, chemically it is nothing special. Rhino horn is composed of keratin, a protein with precisely the same chemical composition as human hair and fingernails.
The lucrative trade in poached and stolen rhino horn stems from its astronomically high value on the illegal market. In an Irish court case following the seizure of eight rhino horns in transit at Shannon Airport in Ireland in 2010, reports the Irish Examiner, fine art expert George Mealy told Ennis District Court that "rhino horns today are worth more in weight than gold". The expert witness went on to say that rhinoceros horn had a value of €20,000 per kilogramme at the time of the theft but that the price had rocketed to €60,000 per kilogramme when the court case was heard. In mid-March 2013, the price of gold was standing at just under €40,000 per kilo.
According to Breakingnews.ie, two years ago, the Europol international police agency said Irish detectives had identified an Irish traveller gang said to be behind a number of thefts of rhino horns across Europe. The gang is said to have targeted antique dealers, auction houses, art galleries, museums, private collections and zoos as part of the illegal trade in rhino horn.
Irish police have asked that anyone with any information concerning the theft of the rhinoceros exhibits from Ireland’s National Museum archives should contact Swords Garda Station on 01-6664700.
More about rhino horns, rhino horn trade, Rhinoceros, rhino poaching, Wildlife conservation
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