Rhino horns snatched from museums

August 28, 2011 • 8:28 am

Woo harms not only humans, but animals, too. As you may know, many rhinoceros have been killed simply for their horns, which are regarded as aphrodesiacs and curatives in the Far East.  (You might also know that rhino horns aren’t bone, but keratin with a calcium core.  They are not, as is often believed, composed of hair.)

Now that there are strict bans against exporting rhino horns from Europe, thieves are starting to snap off the horns from museum specimens (see the sad photo of Rosie the rhino below). According to an article in Friday’s New York Times, there have been 30 such thefts this year.

Rosie the rhino, now hornless in the Ipswich Museum (from NYT article)

What surprises me is the value of these horns:

While horns have sold recently for upward of $200,000, the powder, Mr. Lawson said, is reported to fetch £60,000 a kilo (about $45,000 a pound) on the black market — more than gold, heroin or cocaine.

Sadly, the strict ban on exportation from Europe has led to an increase in the slaughter of live rhinos in Africa.  As the Times reports, 260 rhinos have been killed this year alone in South Africa; poachers often saw the horns off of live animals and let them bleed to death.

Needless to say, the ground-up keratin horns have no medicinal value.

As for Rosie, they’re not going to leave her hornless:

Museum officials said they debated whether to leave Rosie hornless as a reminder of what had happened, but decided instead to replace her missing horn with an ersatz one.

“We will have a big sign saying, ‘This is a fake,’ ” said Ms. Rudkin, the local council member. “ ‘This is not real. So don’t come and get it.’ ”

33 thoughts on “Rhino horns snatched from museums

    1. Or make it out of powdered super strength laxative so at least it would have some medicinal value. And the thieves/customers would be easier to spot.

      1. They seem to want changes in sexual characteristics, perhaps Estrogen? Or even a rumor that all animal horns are being infused with estrogen packed micro capsules.

    2. Not explosive! That would ruin too much stuff. Simply make the fake out of a non-deadly poison. That would have two results, one, it would make people who took it sick, and, two, all of the sick people would ruin the silly idea that rhino horn does any good.

  1. If people are willing to pay such ridiculous prices for ground-up rhino horn, couldn’t someone just grind up another source of keratin and calcium (perhaps some nail clippings and chicken bones?) and sell that? Then the rhinos can live in peace, and people can still get their over-priced magic powder.

    1. I had that idea back when I was a kid- make a bunch of fake “genuine rhino horn” out of horse hooves or the like and flood the markets with it so that the value of rhino horn crashes.

    2. Further hypothesis: Why not build rhino horns from the constituent materials, and flood the market with these synthesized rhino horns?? After all, which consumers of rhino horn powder has been close enough to the real thing to know a genuine from a fake? And this goes for the middle-men as well. What are they going to do? Get a DNA report? If they are so valued, certainly the time and money to engineer an authentic fake would be time and money well spent!

      1. I think your suggestions, good as they are, are missing the point. The idiots who believe this nonsense are after it precisely because it is a horn with connotations of sexual prowess etc. It is not the material that matters, but the form it takes.

  2. I wonder if the horns can be made from rhino stem cells? It could be a lucrative business as well as take some of the pressure off real animals by depressing the price.

    1. There are quite a number of elk ranchers in North Dakota, and one of their products is antler, which apparently wind up in Asia in powdered form.

      1. Ouch! Maybe instead of investing in farms they should try to combat the woo.

        It is a drain on productivity.

  3. How do things like this get started?

    Was there a guy one day, watching a rhino and thinking to himself: “You know what, I bet that horn would make a GREAT aphrodisiac, let’s kill the animal, remove the horn, grind it up and eat it!”?

    1. More or less sounds right. I’d add to that wistful glances between the rhino’s schnozz and the philosopher’s own nether bits, leading up to the critical neural firings of another stupid idea.

      1. I think it is more likely that they were already eating the animal, and were just trying to harness more of it’s ‘power’.

  4. @ early_cuyler Don’t stop at laxatives. I’m sure there must be some chemical which could do something like change the colour of urine.
    @ Jack – It’s not an aphrodisiac, it’s a woo version of viagra. The idea is anything big and hard like that in the animal kingdom must make you big and hard, too.
    YOu would think that people who believe this would also believe in homeopathy… sell them some sugar pills with horn “vibrations” and maybe that’ll saturate the market. Much cheaper than grinding up nail clippings and chicken bones.

  5. Rhino horn can be ‘harvested’ without harming the animal. Wouldn’t it make sense for zoos and wildlife rangers to do this to remove the temptation to poachers, at least until the Chinese grow out of their delusions? I have seen this advocated, but needless to say, ‘animal rights’ loonies howled the proposal down.

    1. Difficult, indeed, but also nice to see so many trying to save the beast. Interesting that they put the IV’s in the ears…I suppose the only place the skin is thin enough to allow veins to be found?

      1. Great point. Thanks for reminding me that there were terrific people trying to help the rhino. I never want to overlook those who work so hard to relieve the suffering of both man & beast. Thanks again Diane.

  6. Actually, in the 80s and 90s they tried removing the horns from rhinos that were in national parks.

    Poachers got into the habit of shooting them and leaving the bodies to rot.

    Plus it hurt the rhinos because they no longer had horns that they could use to defend themselves from lions or those rhinos that still had horns.

  7. Perhaps we should encourage homeopathic rhino horn remedies. Fight woo with woo! One rhino horn will be enough for these chumps forever…

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