Thieves are plundering Europe’s museums of their rhino horns and elephant tusks. First it was Haslemere Educational Museum and Norwich Castle Museum in England, then the Florence Museum of Natural History. Overall, the Guardian reports, more than twenty museums and auction houses in Britain, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Belgium have lost tusks and horns to poachers looking to turn a quick profit. Last weekend, Paris’ Museum of Natural History came close to becoming the latest member to join this growing list. The Guardian reports:
Police were called to the museum in the early hours of Saturday morning where they found a chainsaw still whirring after a man in his 20s escaped over a wall with a tusk over his shoulder.
The thief, startled by the museum’s alarm system, tried to make a quick break for it but wound up fracturing his ankle.
The elephant in question once belonged to King Louis XIV. The animal was a gift from the Portuguese king in 1668 and was much beloved by Louis XIV and his visitors.
It lived for 13 years in the royal menagerie in the grounds of the opulent palace of Versailles where it became the star attraction. When it died, its skeleton was transferred to the natural history collection in Paris, one of the biggest in the world alongside London’s Natural History Museum.
The tusks, in fact, were added to the skeleton in the 19th century. The wildlife black market isn’t paying for historical value, though; buyers are purportedly interested in the value of animal parts in traditional Chinese medicinal. Elephant tusks currently fetch hundreds of dollars per pound while rhino horns go for much higher prices.
The Parisien museum curators say they’ll restore the sawed off horn to its rightful place. Curators at other institutions, such as London’s Natural History Museum, are not taking any chances, however. They replaced their horns two years ago with fakes.
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