White Rhino horn

Endangered species

The museum has recently acquired two White Rhino horns that were being smuggled to China hidden within a sculpture. Replicas of the horns went on display in Seized! on 10 February 2012. Due to criminal activity in this trade the real rhino horn cannot be displayed.

This sculpture was declared as a Vienna Bronze at Manchester Airport. However it was a fake containing a secret. An x-ray of the sculpture revealed suspicious dense triangular shapes which where suspected to be smuggled rhino horn. CITES officers broke open the sculpture to reveal the horns hidden inside. After breaking into the sculpture officers found two large rhino horns. The horns were removed from Simba, a male White Rhino who died of natural causes at Colchester Zoo. This image of Simba courtesy of Colchester Zoo.

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Border Force officers at Manchester Airport stopped an antiques dealer who was carrying the sculpture in a suitcase. Officers x-rayed what was declared as a 'Vienna Bronze', and saw two horn shapes inside.

CITES officers in UK Border Force broke open the seized fake sculpture to reveal the suspected rhino horn. The officers undertook a rigorous investigation and discovered the horns had been removed from a rhino named Simba who had died of natural causes at Colchester Zoo. Samples of the horn were sent to South Africa for testing to confirm its true identity. The zoo had legally disposed of the body of the rhino for cremation to ensure no part of the animal could be illegally traded. However the horns were stolen from the crematorium before they were destroyed.

The antiques dealer pleaded guilty and was jailed for a year.

White Rhino are critically endangered and protected under the CITES international agreement (Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species). Trade in rhino horn has been restricted since 1980 in an attempt to stop extinction of the species. The Black Rhino has now been declared as extinct in West Africa, and poachers have wiped out the Java Rhino in the Far East. However in China and Vietnam some believe powdered rhino horn in traditional medicine has properties believed to cure cancer, and other ailments. This has fuelled poaching in Africa, with more than 400 poached in 2011.