Poachers break into zoo and kill a white rhino

Photo courtesy WashingtonPost.com

The illegal trafficking and hunting of preserved wildlife is one of the world’s largest criminal activities; which affects numerous endangered species. The rhinoceros is one of those animals; desired for its horn used in southeast Asia. The demand for rhino horns is so high that experts believe any rhino, anywhere in the world, is at risk.

Poachers have hunted rhinos in the wild and in protected reserves all around the world, threatening four of five rhino species. Now rhinos are unsafe in the protection of a zoo.

After breaking into the Thoiry Zoo, outside of Paris, poachers slaughtered four-year-old rhino, Vince, and sawed off one of his horns. “It is extremely shocking what just happened,” Zoo Director Thierry Duguet told France’s 20 Minutes newspaper. “An act of such violence, never before seen in Europe.” It was reported that Vince was shot three times in the head. It appeared as if a chainsaw was used to cut off one of his horns. As for the second horn, Duguet said, “his second horn was only partially cut, which suggests that the criminals were disturbed or that their equipment proved defective.”

As horrific as this event was, the event was not unforeseen. Experts have been warning wildlife conservationists of the possibility of potential attacks, for several years, after private collections and exhibitions were robbed.“I wish I was surprised, but these animals are so brutally targeted,” said Cece Sieffert,  Deputy Director at the International Rhino Foundation, which supports rhino conservation in Africa and Asia. “Wildlife crime is run by organized crime syndicates with very complex networks of middlemen moving rhino horns from Africa and India to networks in Southeast Asia. With the poaching crisis at such an alarming rate, it was sadly only a matter of time before these animals in zoos and other protected areas were targeted.”

Southern White Rhinos, like Vince, were on the brink of extinction in the late 19th Century, and they are not the only not endangered rhinos. However, with protection efforts and the high price on rhino horns, this might change soon. Rhino horn sale is banned by international convention, yet it still persists. A kilogram of rhino horn could be sold for nearly $54,000 in 2015, according to the zoo. “It’s really a no-brainer for these criminal groups,” he said. “It’s a low-risk, high-profit enterprise for them, and they can make as much money robbing a bank as they can killing a rhino with far, far less security.” Crawford Allan, Senior Director of TRAFFIC North America stated.

The zoo reported that the perpetrators forced open the outer gate, right outside the rhinoceros building, at night. They then proceeded to pry open a second metal door and break open an inner door, which granted them assess to the animal lodges. “This odious act was perpetrated despite the presence of five members of the zoo staff living on site and surveillance cameras, ” stated the zoo.

“Animal parks throughout Europe have been put on alert to look out … to get into these places they have to climb 3.5 meter fences, go through padlocked doors,” said Paul de La Panouse, the former director of the zoo’s African enclosure, according to The Guardian.

According to the Dodo, the Thoiry Zoo attack occurred merely two weeks after two armed men raided a rhino orphanage in South Africa. The men not only assaulted the staff, but also held them hostage and killed two baby rhinos for their horns.

Allan said zoos need to do risk assessments as soon as possible, since the criminals probably already found another zoo to target. He also recommended upgrading security equipment to include thermal imaging cameras that can automatically identify humans, as well as hiring more security guards.