Rhinos suffer as latest victims of the illicit wildlife trade

Monday, July 18, 2011
IFAW (The International Fund for Animal Welfare www.ifaw.org), Save the Rhino International, Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP) and Saving Rhinos issued the following joint statement regarding the recent surge in rhino horn heists from European museums:  

“Across Europe, thieves are targeting museums to steal antique rhino horns.  These crimes obviously have grave implications for museum collections and visitors, as well as the Earth’s rhinos, who are being slaughtered to near extinction to fuel the demand for their horns on the black market.  These thefts speak to the value of products derived from wildlife and the lengths to which people will go to profit from their illicit trade.

Rhino horns are still a prized traditional remedy in East Asia, despite repeated scientific studies proving that they have no medicinal benefit, and recent warnings that they may actually harm human health.  With a great demand for such items, they are being pilfered at an alarming rate.  Just last week, law enforcement agencies linked the thefts to an Irish organized crime group, which is also involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, and the piracy of counterfeit goods.

Rhinos are an important part of our natural and cultural heritage.  It is extremely vital that the international community—especially those countries where the demand for rhino horn is greatest—enforce existing laws and treaties to protect the species.  Additionally, we urge the public to stop buying rhino horns, and all other illicit art and wildlife products.

The trafficking of these species will only end when the demand does—or when the supply runs out—whichever happens first. For the sake of the rhinos, and all of us, we hope that it will not be the latter.”  

With heists occurring in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Czech Republic, Director of IFAW EU office issued the following statements:

“We’re very concerned about these thieves operating in Belgium – first and foremost because it shows the tremendous demand that exists for wildlife products such as rhino horn and elephant ivory – and also because we have just wrapped up a display in the European Parliament in Brussels which could conceivably be a target for these thieves,” said Lesley O’Donnell.

Lucy Boddam-Whetham Acting Director at Save the Rhino International said the following:

“Save the Rhino International was extremely alarmed to hear about the recent spate of thefts of rhino trophy mounts from European museums. These incidents follow an identified increase in the prices being fetched for rhino trophy mounts in Auction houses across Europe which, at the beginning of 2011, led the UK’s Animal Health's Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service (WLRS), following European Commission guidance, to bring into force a ban on the sale of rhino horn trophies. The recent museum break-ins serve to highlight that the rhino poaching problem is not confined to Africa and Asia and that a high level of criminal activity pervades all aspects of this illegal trade. In the last three years, 800 African rhinos have been killed and experts agree that we are facing the worst rhino poaching crisis in decades. As a consequence, these thefts, which clearly contribute to this problem, need to be treated as very serious crimes.”

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation added:

"This is not Hollywood, where museum heists are glamorous, and even harmless. These crimes threaten a species with extinction and endanger the public. We are all victims."

Rhishja Larson, Founder/Program Director, Saving Rhinos stated:

"The demand for rhino horn is driving the killing of rhinos in African countries, as well as in India and Nepal. In South Africa alone, nearly 200 rhinos were killed between January and July of this year. Comparatively, 125 rhinos were killed during the same time period in 2010.

Despite the fact rhino horn has been rigorously analyzed and found to contain no medicinal properties whatsoever, it continues to be used illegally as a 'cure-all' and is even marketed as a treatment for cancer in East and Southeast Asia. Contrary to popular belief, it is not prescribed for a lagging libido.

These crimes, whether perpetrated in the halls of the world's museums or the in the African bush, are indicative of the grip that organized crime syndicates have on the illegal rhino horn trade."

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