In South Africa, one recent robbery broke the blast-open-the-safe, steal-the-gold mold of bank heists. The thieves did break into a safe and steal millions of dollars worth of loot. But they didn’t make off with gold or Picassos. They stole rhino horns—nearly $3 million worth.
The safe contained 66 southern white rhino horns, removed from the animals on the Leshoka Thabang Game Reserve to protect them from poachers who often kill the giant beasts just for their horns. The thieves apparently broke into the reserve’s office and used a blowtorch to open this safe and snag the horns.
Demand for rhino horns, which go into traditional medicine cures for everything from cancer to hangovers, is growing, and right now the going rate (just about $30,000 a pound) is higher than gold’s.
Reuters called Johan van Zyl, the farmer whose safe contained the 66 rhino horns, which weighed almost 100 pounds in total. “In my hands it is worth nothing, but in the hands of the guys who have it now, the horns are worth a lot of money,” he told them.
Part of what’s driving the price up is that rhinos are getting rarer, because they’re being poached so much. The Western Black rhino was poached to extinction just this year. Reuters estimates that last year poachers killed 660 rhinos in South Africa. This year that number could jump to 800. And 75 percent of the rhinos in the world live in South Africa.
To save the dwindling rhino population, some rangers are taking the drastic measure of poisoning rhinos’ horns to deter people from eating them.
And it isn’t only rhinos in the wild which are being attacked for their horns. In July of last year, two men cokes into the Ipswitch Musuem and ripped the horn off a museum specimen. This museum heist wasn’t an isolated event either. Here’s the Guardian:
According to the Metropolitan police, 20 thefts have taken place across Europe in the past six months – in Portugal, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Sweden as well as the UK. Scotland Yard and Europol are now advising galleries and collectors to consider locking up their rhino horn collections or keeping them away from public view. Several institutions, including the Natural History Museum and theHorniman Museum in south London, have removed their displays or replaced horns with replicas.
Law enforcement officials think that these museum heists were all carried out by the same team of criminals, hungry for horns—although most likely the South African safe heist wasn’t related. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) called the rhino hunting situation “bleak” in 2009, and it’s only gotten worse. Until rhino horns stop being worth more than gold, it’s unlikely that the giant beasts, or their horns, will be safe anywhere.
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