66 rhino horns worth R25m stolen

2013-04-06 14:23
(File: AFP)

(File: AFP)

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Johannesburg - Thieves have made off with 66 rhino horns worth some R25m in one of the biggest horn heists the country has seen, after breaking into the safe of a game farm owner.

The horns had been removed from rhino at the Leshoka Thabang Game Reserve in northern Limpopo to protect the animals from poachers who supply them illegally to international crime syndicates.

Demand has also been growing for rhino horn in Vietnam, where a newly affluent class has been buying it to treat ailments ranging from hangovers to cancer. The treatments have no basis in science but demand has pushed the price up to $65 000 a kilogram, making it more expensive than gold.

'Knew what they were doing'

Thieves stole the horns, two hunting rifles and four laptops in the robbery.

"The guys knew what they were doing. It was perfectly planned," owner Johan van Zyl told Beeld.

"In my hands it is worth nothing, but in the hands of the guys who have it now, the horns are worth a lot of money," he told Reuters.

He said about 42kg of horn had been stolen, which, according to prices of Vietnamese traditional medicine deals, would sell for about $2.75m (R25m) on the streets of Hanoi.

Van Zyl said he had permits for horn removal and storage. The government allows for private storage of horns, which must be registered, while forbidding almost all sales.

The thieves broke into a business office on Wednesday evening and appeared to have used a blowtorch to open a safe where the horns were kept, police and the game farm owner said.

"At this stage, we haven't arrested anybody yet, but we are still investigating," Limpopo police spokesperson Colonel Ronel Otto said.

She told Beeld that departmental nature conservationists were supposed to put microchips in the horns in accordance with the law before locking them up in a place of safety.

Poaching

South Africa is home to the vast majority of rhino on the continent, with numbers estimated at about 21 000.

Last year, more than 660 rhino in South Africa were killed by poachers - a record high - and more than 800 rhino could be killed this year if poaching continues at its current rate.

Several game reserve owners have dehorned rhinos to make them less likely to be killed by poachers, while the army has been deployed to protect the animals in national parks.

Rhino horn has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, where it was ground into powder to treat a range of maladies including rheumatism, gout and even possession by devils.

 

Read more on:    polokwane  |  rhino poaching
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