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June 29, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 - , No comments

From Poaching to Theft: The Recent “Trend” of Rhino Horn Thefts in Europe

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA Blog Contributor

When thinking of museum thefts, what first comes to mind of what might be stolen? Painting, smaller sculptures, jewels, manuscripts—essentially pieces of cultural heritage that are both valuable and aesthetically pleasing. Sitting in the Fiddler’s Elbow in Florence last weekend, rhino horns certainly did not come to mind. Not until reading the Florence Newspaper that is.

In the past month rhino horns have been stolen from multiple museums in Europe. On May 27, a rhino head was stolen from the Haslemere Educational Museum in Surrey, England. It was the only item missing from the museum. The theft of a rhino horn was discovered at Bamberger’s Nature Museum in Germany, though the time of the theft is unknown. The Natural History Museum (La Specola) in Florence, Italy, had three rhino horns stolen from the collection on June 8, including one that was over a meter long.

It is believed that the horns have been stolen for the illicit attainment of ivory. This is certainly supported by the fact that some of the rhino heads that have been stolen have been recovered but without the horn. It seems that those in the illicit ivory trade have taken a step away from murdering living rhinos for their horns to robbing museums of their stock—meant to preserve what may not be left behind if poachers continue to kill off the rhino population. La Specola’s president, Giovanni Pratesi, is convinced that these horns are destined for the Asian market, which would sell them for medicinal uses and as aphrodisiacs.

Museums have been advised to take their rhino-related items out of display so as to not encourage further thefts. Surrey’s Haslemere Educational Museum has even posted a notice on their website:
Rhino Material Removed from Premises
Following the recent theft of a rhino head from display, the remaining rhino head has been removed from the premises and the museum will no longer store rhino material.
This recent rash of thefts has certainly put a dint in the display of rhino heads and horns in museums. Fortunately—and unfortunately—the same cannot be said for works of art that are susceptible to theft.

You may read more by Kirsten Hower on her blog, The Wandering Scholar.