Rhino Head Thieves Found Guilty in Court

In this week’s crime blotter, getting to the bottom of a botched British museum heist.

David M. Waterhouse, curator of natural history at Norwich's Castle Museum, restores a rhino head with replica horns. Thieves had targeted the item for its valuable horns.

In February 2012  four men were hired to steal a rhino head from Norwich’s Castle Museum. They entered the museum, opened the display case, and ran off with the cumbersome object—only to drop it after being pursued by museum staff.

Police later arrested some of the not-so-savvy robbers. And now, a jury has convicted four of the masterminds behind the foiled stunt, reported The Guardian. They’re the senior leaders of the so-called Rathkeale Rovers, an international organized crime gang named after six of the members’ family village in Ireland. Ten other men had already received guilty verdicts for their roles in a string of museum and auction house heists  in 2012.

On the black market, rhino horns can fetch $132,000 a pound ($60,000 a kilogram). In Vietnam and China, rhino horn is coveted as a status symbol and out of the mistaken belief it can heal everything from hangovers to cancer.

Some other wildlife crime busts and convictions around the world this past week:

IVORY SMUGGLING: The director of an import-export and freight-forwarding firm is accused of being involved in the smuggling of more than 6,600 pounds of elephant tusks into Cambodia in 2014, according to The Cambodia Daily. It’s the largest amount of ivory ever seized in the country. And four Kenyan police officers were arrested for attempting to sell 11 pounds of ivory, valued at $5,500, while riding in a government-owned vehicle in Nairobi West, reports International Business Times.

TURTLE TRAFFICKING: Thai police nabbed a Thai man suspected of being a senior member of an international turtle trafficking ring, announced Freeland, a conservation group that aided the investigation. His arrest follows the recent bust of an Indian national at Suvarnabhumi Airport, in Bangkok, who was found by customs officers to have checked a suitcase concealing Indian star tortoises.

SHARK SELLING: Dubai officials busted a fishmonger in Deira fish market for illegally selling 80 sharks, says The National. The United Arab Emirates bans the sale of any of the 29 indigenous or migratory shark species between February and July, according to the publication. Officials have been conducting routine inspections of fish markets.

TIGER SKIN TRADING: Undercover police in Indonesia arrested a suspect for attempting to sell a tiger skin and bones in Lubuklinggau, a south Sumatran town, announced TRAFFIC, which monitors the wildlife trade. From 2001 to 2012, says TRAFFIC, Indonesian authorities seized tiger products on 42 occasions.

ELEPHANT AND LION POISONINGS: South African authorities have launched an investigation into who’s behind the deaths of an elephant, 110 white-backed vultures, two lions, and two black-backed jackals found poisoned last week in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, says allAfrica. Along with poison on its carcass, the elephant had gunshots to its head and its tusks removed.

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback and story ideas to ngwildlife@ngs.org.

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