VERSAILLES (France) • Intruders at a French zoo shot dead a white rhino and hacked off its horns in a grisly overnight poaching incident, police and the zoo have said.
The perpetrators forced open the main gate of the Thoiry zoo, near Paris, and broke through at least two other security barriers on Monday night, without disturbing five people who live on the grounds.
The four-year-old, "critically endangered" southern white male, named Vince, was attacked in an area where other rhinos are also kept.
"Staff left the rhino enclosure on Monday. When they returned on Tuesday, an animal had been killed and its two horns had been sawn off," a police spokesman said.
She added that the horns were "probably cut off with a chainsaw".
Revival of poaching trade
Depending on the species and the market, rhino horns are worth more than their weight in gold.
Global trade in rhino horn is banned by a UN convention but as little as a kilogram of rhino horn was worth about US$54,000 (S$76,200) on the black market in 2015.
By the early 1990s, the southern white rhino population plummeted to as few as 50 animals left in the wild, according to conservation group Save The Rhino.
The group said the numbers have increased to about 20,000 after conservation efforts but those numbers are once again falling due to a new wave of poaching since 2008.
The rhino had been shot three times in the head.
"Only the main horn was stolen," the spokesman said.
"His second horn was only partially cut which suggests that the criminals were disturbed or that their equipment proved defective," the zoo said. Investigators estimate that the stolen horn is worth between €30,000 (S$44,700) and €40,000.
In the last eight years, roughly a quarter of the world's rhino population has been killed in South Africa, which is home to 80 per cent of the remaining animals.
According to the Thoiry zoo, this would be the first time a zoo was the target of an "attack" of this nature that led to the death of a rhino.
The zoo has video surveillance cameras but these are not installed in the area where the rhinos live.
"This was carried out despite the presence of five members of staff who live on the site and (despite) security cameras," the zoo said.
The two other rhinos in the enclosure were a 37-year-old female, Gracie, and a five-year-old male, Bruno. Both were unharmed.
The attack in France comes two weeks after two armed men stormed a rhino orphanage in South Africa, according to The Dodo animal welfare website.
The men assaulted staff members before holding them hostage and killing two baby rhinos for the horns, according to a statement posted on Facebook by the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage.
Ms Suzie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Fund, said the boldness of the latest attacks - which follow museums and private collections being targeted - is a sign that "zoological facilities need to take serious measures to keep their rhinos safe".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST