Rhino horn thieves foiled!

by Greg Mayer

Jerry has called attention to the problem of theft of rhino horns from museums and other collections in Europe, citing a NY Times piece from Friday. Officials at the Natural History Museum at Tring (Lord Rothschild‘s former private museum) were aware of the problem, and ready for it. Thieves broke into the Museum early Saturday morning, and made off with two horns, but the horns were fakes! As the BBC put it:

Unfortunately for them [the thieves], staff at the Hertfordshire museum were aware of the string of thefts from other museums and auction houses, and had swapped the real rhino horns for carefully crafted fakes, almost indistinguishable from the real thing. And totally worthless.

Here’s one of the afflicted rhinos:

Black rhino (Diceros bicornis) at the Tring Musuem, from which thieves removed a fake horn. Photo issued by Natural History Museum.

The real horns are safe at the museum. The Associated Press provides a further account.

28 Comments

  1. Chayanov
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Of course, the fakes will work just as well as the real horns.

    • Posted August 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      My exact thought :-)

      • Heleen
        Posted August 29, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

        Moreover, the fake horns will be as valuable on the black market. Musea could use this as a source of money.

  2. derp
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    How did they get the rhino to stand so still?

  3. Filippo
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Why not a fake horn with exploding ink? With an electronic transmitter pin-pointing the location of the dastardly lair?

    • Posted August 30, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

      Yes, my first thought was that they missed a trick by not implanting a geo-locating beacon inside the fake.

  4. Richard C
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I’d be much happier if the headline was “Rhino horn thieves captured!”

    These guys are just awful.

    • Microraptor
      Posted August 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      I’d have liked “Rhino horn thieves gored by angry rhino.”

  5. Posted August 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Bravo for the museum having that foresight. But I do agree with Robert. We need to catch these thieves.

  6. Karen
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    How about a nice radioactive marker, that’s shielded until the horn is cut! If it damages the thieves, who cares.

    Sorry, losing perspective as the radon level climbs in my house… (yes, it is scheduled to be mitigated.)

  7. tomh
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    BBC: carefully crafted fakes, almost indistinguishable from the real thing. And totally worthless.

    Hardly worthless. If they are “carefully crafted fakes” they will probably sell just as fast on the black market as the real thing. And as Chayanov pointed out above, they will work just as well as the real thing.

    • jimvj
      Posted August 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      This should be one of the prime ways to thwart the use of rare animal organs and body parts.

      Develop really good fakes for these prized items and flood the smuggling/poaching channels with these forgeries.

      That would drive the price down and greatly reduce the incentive to poach/steal these body parts.

  8. Your Name's not Bruce?
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Hey, if they dilute the rhino horn powder homeopathically, one horn (real or fake) should provide enough magic boner power until the sun goes nova.

  9. Marella
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Rhino horn, sigh, why don’t the idiots who buy this stuff just chew their own fingernails? It would be a lot cheaper too. Or use Viagra which actually works?

  10. MarcusA1971
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    The phrase “suck shit” comes to mind. If the thief(or thieves) are captured, perhaps they could be forced to take the (fake) horn as a suppository?

  11. Bernard J. Ortcutt
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Answer: Poisoned Fake Horns

    • sasqwatch
      Posted August 29, 2011 at 2:42 am | Permalink

      Yep. And to make the irony more exquisite, make that poison melamine.

  12. Mike K.
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    First comment on your blog and it’s a bit of a correction. I hope you take notice, some bloggers ignore their commenters.

    The myth of Rhinohorns giving you “great power” in the pants is itself a myth it seems.

    http://skepticdetective.wordpress.com/tag/aphrodisiac/

    It seems so easy to imagine that those irrational asian medicine types would think horn of the rhino would work as a sexual stimulant, it seems it’s just a western notion of chinese medicine.

    Now I’m not defending traditional Chinese medicine at all, merely that our notions (of what they believe) are disputable

    • sasqwatch
      Posted August 29, 2011 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      A couple things:
      1) I was one of those persons under that mistaken impression (but it was corrected up above) – am now acknowledging my mistake though. Thanks for the link and correction.

      2) it’s not a blog, but a website. Not my rules. :-)

      • sasqwatch
        Posted August 29, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        correction: it was Microraptor who first clued me into rhino horn as a fever remedy. (in the previous thread on rhino horns). Difficult to keep the woo myths distinct. Thanks for the additional ref!

        • Microraptor
          Posted August 29, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

          Heck, I only got clued into it a few years ago when I was doing some random research on rhinos.

      • Mike K.
        Posted August 29, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        Surely saying “it’s not a blog but a website” is like saying “it’s not a Ford but a Car.”

        • Microraptor
          Posted August 29, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          Jerry Coyne wants to call it a website, and, quite honestly, “blog” is kind of a silly word.

        • sasqwatch
          Posted August 29, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

          You h’ain’t a-been lurkin’ here too long, h’ain’t cha? ;-)

          • Mike K.
            Posted August 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

            I’m starting to feel like that time it was insisted to me that in Montana, we’re supposed to say “was” after “if”.

            Blogroll then.

    • tomh
      Posted August 29, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      It’s a little hard to believe that people are paying $200,000 (per the original story) for a horn to make a ceremonial dagger or to grind up for fever relief or just general medicine. Seems like it would take a belief that it’s an aphrodisiac to make it worth so much. Maybe the black marketers haven’t read the story you link to, and so believe the myth about the myth.

      • Microraptor
        Posted August 29, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        It’s also hard to believe that people would pay thousands of dollars for an oversized mushroom, but that is the going rate for some truffles.

        Speculation on my part, but I suspect it’s just the CTM practitioners who pay that much for the horns which they grind up and mix with other ingredients to make the medicine so that one horn that they paid $200,000 for ends up getting sold for consumption for a cumulative total of $300,000 or so.

        As for the dagger handles, well, wealthy people have been willing to pay outrageous prices for outrageous items for thousands of years.

  13. Dominic
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Must be the same gang.


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