Lazy Criminals Make Easy Pickings of Rhino Horn in the World’s Museums

A Rhino-horn dagger was the thing to have and if you had anything less, you could not walk with the same pride your richer neighbour could.Every shop along the narrow alley that serves as the street, there are men sitting in stalls selling these daggers with great pride and outmost seriousness. In the late 1980’s, the best dagger hilts in the marketplace were made of Rhino horn.One of my first professional jobs took me to Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.  It is hard to describe the sights and sounds that assault you as you walk through Bab Al Yemen, the still standing gate to the old city of Sana’a, but there are two things that jump out at you.

The first is the sight of a blinkered camel impossibly stuffed inside a tiny room that serves as its prison.  The camel walks endless circles round a millstone, hour after hour and day after day; the stone representing the camel’s sole purpose in life.

When you have recovered from the shock of that, you begin to notice that there seem to be daggers or Jambiyas as they are called in Yemen, for sale everywhere.

In every shop along the narrow alley that serves as the street, there are men sitting in stalls selling these daggers with great pride and outmost seriousness.  In the late 1980’s, the best dagger hilts in the marketplace were made of Rhino horn.

A Rhino-horn dagger was the thing to have and if you had anything less, you could not walk with the same pride your richer neighbour could.

Don’t underestimate what it means to wear a dagger in Yemen.  All boys dreamed of getting their first dagger and they are worn everyday on a sometimes richly embroidered belt.

In a land where fights often break out there were specific protocols for drawing your dagger.

The more valuable the dagger, the more merit the man had.

Most people were not going about their daily business wearing rhino-horn daggers; that was reserved for special occasions.  At the time, a rhino horn-dagger could fetch USD 20,000.  Today’s prices make that look cheap.

People today will argue over whether or not Yemen still drives the illegal rhino horn trade but one thing is clear; the best daggers with rhino horn can now fetch up to USD 100,000 and are mostly kept at home and passed down to sons and grandsons and are considered rare.

On a recent trip to the marketplace in Sana’a, I found the stalls flooded with plastic hilts made to look like rhino horn, and when I asked why, I was told that real rhino horn was too expensive and too hard to find.

I wanted to believe that meant that use of rhino horn was on the wane around the world and that conservation measures were in place to protect the rhino.

So, what are we to make of the bizarre news that museums around the world are being robbed of their rhino horns?

At first, police thought it was an isolated incident and did not make much of it.   Last March the Natural History Museum in Rouen, France was relieved of a rhino horn from an exhibit.  After the European Union began a crackdown on the sale of antique ivory, two suspects from Poland were arrested for attempted theft of rhino horn.

Three rhino horns were stolen from a museum in Hamburg, Germany and we thought for a moment that our Think Twice Campaign specimens may have been lifted but, luckily, that was not the case.   Other countries such as Italy, England and Ireland also have reported cases of rhino horn being stolen from exhibits.

So, what does it all mean?

Could it possibly mean that protection of rhinos in the wild has become so good that thieves are forced to turn to easier pickings?

Doubtful…

Yemenis not the only place in the world to find illegal rhino horns.  More likely it is because avarice is unleashed and the illegal market for rhino horn trophies is so stimulated that thieves can fetch a huge price for their loot without the pains of hunting down and slaughtering a rhino.

Let’s stop the charade, the market drives the killing of rhinos and other vulnerable wildlife and arguments that the market will protect wildlife are simple drivel.

Example: A trip toKazarangaNational ParkinAssam,Indiais a good example of where there are many more rhinos now than there used to be…

--AD

Comments: 1

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

[...] Lazy Criminals Make Easy Pickings of Rhino Horn in the World's … [...]

Post a comment

Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Cynthia Moss, IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia