The mounted head of a black rhino has been stolen from an Essex auctioneers. The theft took place on the evening of February 21, when the perpetrators forced open the doors of Sworder's Auctioneers in Stansted Mountfitchet.
It is believed that the auction house was specifically targeted after it listed the item for sale. The rhino head is worth more than £50,000, but fears have been expressed about the motives of the thieves as it would be worth considerably more if sold into the traditional medicine market.
The horn of the rhino was traditionally used as a medicine in China, believed to help cure a variety of debilitating diseases and conditions, such as gout and rheumatism. The head has two prominent horns - which could be ground down and sold to the Chinese black-market.
Since 1976, trading of rhino horns has been illegal, as signatories of the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species sought to provide greater protection to animals such as the rhino. However, the resultant black-market means that rhino horn is extremely valuable and hard to acquire.
The rhino head was the only item stolen in the raid, which appeared to be carefully planned. Another burglary earlier in the month saw only minor items stolen, but police have speculated the two may be linked - the first possibly being a 'reconnaissance' break-in.
The police also discovered a track across a nearby field, where it is believed a get-away car may have been left. What is certain is that the rhino head is an incredibly rare and very valuable piece - and its theft is a disappointing blow to those who have fought to prevent the illegal trade in animal body parts.
Away from the illegal market, rhino horns have commanded significant prices at auction in the past. 'New' rhino horns are forbidden, but confirmed antiques are an acceptable consignment. George Kidner of Lymington sold a rhino horn libation cup for £58,750. Last June, IM Chait listed an intricately carved rhino horn libation cup for $75,000-100,000.