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Fri Dec 19 16:19:21 SAST 2014

Poachers target museums

POPPY LOUW | 19 August, 2013 06:440 Comments
RHINO RAID: The National Museum of Ireland has dehorned the rhinos it has on exhibit to prevent more thefts. Four stuffed rhino heads were stolen from its storerooms in April.
Image by: COLLEEN GOKO

Rhino poaching syndicates, whose activities have been made more difficult by police and wildlife agencies, have turned to looting museums worldwide and raiding the collections of trophy hunters and game farmers.

In April, four stuffed rhino heads were stolen from the storerooms at the National Museum of Ireland, in Dublin.

The museum had removed the heads from display the previous year and placed them in storage to safeguard them from thieves.

Officials at the museum have now put up a notice informing all visitors that all rhino horns on display will be replicas.

In the meantime, all the stuffed rhinos have been dehorned to prevent theft.

According to the museum, the stolen horns have a black market value of about 500000 euro (R6.5-million) .

"This is a growing problem in museums. Rhino horn is poached in the wild, and stolen from museums and private collections, to be sold illegally for its supposed medicinal properties," reads the notice at the museum.

Several rhino horns have been stolen from South African museums since 2002.

In 2002, the horn of a stuffed white rhino - worth R150000 - was stolen from Pretoria's Ditsong Museum of South Africa.

In 2006, thieves made off with the horn of a rhino shot in the 1880s and exhibited at the Reinet House Museum, in Graaff-Reinet.

In 2008, two "priceless" horns were stolen from the Iziko Museums of South Africa .

Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloko said museums and collectors needed to be cautious.

"It may not be a [major] problem at the moment but those who own these items must protect themselves well so that they are not targeted," said Ramaloko.

Limpopo game farm owner Johan van Zyl lost 66 rhino horns, valued at R29.15-million, from his office safe in April.

He had removed them from living rhinos at his game farm in order to protect them from poachers.

"There have been many incidents but I am afraid to talk about it.

"The more I talk about them, the more they poach my rhino and steal from me," said Van Zyl.

International Anti-Poaching Foundation founding director Damien Mander warned that the poaching of rhino would inevitably worsen.

"The theft of rhino horn from museums highlights the brazenness of thieves [and the lengths to which they] are willing to go to get [their hands] on the prize," Mander said.

Rhino horn, used in Chinese medicines, is believed to be able to treat a variety of ailments, such as fevers and convulsions, though no hard evidence exists of rhino horn possessing any medicinal value.

South Africa's rhino death toll so far this year stands at 553 .

More than 660 rhino were killed in South Africa last year.

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