Ipswich Museum is understood to be the latest UK cultural attraction to have been targeted by an organised crime gang that may be behind a staggering 20 similar thefts from venues across Europe this year.
On 28 July an 18-inch horn was torn from a display at the museum in Suffolk. Nothing else was taken during the break-in. this follows the theft of a rhino head from the Educational Museum in Haslemere, Surrey, on 27 May. Once again nothing else was taken in the raid.
Depending on the size and quality of the specimen, a rhino horn can be worth between 25,000 and 200,000 euros.
In a resent statement, European law enforcement agency Europol said: “Significant players within this area of crime have been identified as an Irish and ethnically-Irish organised criminal group, who are known to use intimidation and violence to achieve their ends.
“To source and acquire rhino horns, the group has targeted antique dealers, auction houses, art galleries, museums, private collections and zoos, resorting to theft and aggravated burglary where necessary.
“To sell specimens, they have exploited international auction houses in the UK, France, US and China.”
The Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA, the UK's organisation for representing natural science collections and associated museum staff, has released guidance for rhino horn in museum collections in light of the recent thefts:
1. This is an area that has implications for the safety of people and objects. We recommend that a security audit is carried out and if your material is not secure it should be taken off display and put in a secure location.
2. If you are worried about holding on to rhino horn then you should either put it in a more secure location at your site or dispose of it (either by loan or permanently) to another museum willing to take it on. This would probably be a museum that already looks after rhino horn.
3. Rhino material should not be destroyed. Apart from the obvious problems of destroying museum material, there are good scientific reasons for maintaining rhino horn for future research that can tie in to conservation efforts. A guide might be taken from national parks in South Africa where rangers lock up rhino horn rather than destroy it.
4. NatSCA does not advise on value, but for insurance valuation purposes auction houses can provide some guidance.
5. Do not publicise your rhino material. Thefts have targeted rhino horn that is on display or has been publicised in some way.
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Rhino head theft 'may be linked to international crime ring'
A rhino head was stolen from the Educational Museum in Haslemere, Surrey, on 27 May, and police believe the crime may be linked to a series of similar thefts across Europe, it has been reported.