Rhino-horn gang strikes again in Belgium
Robbers made off with two rhino horns from a Belgium museum, the third such heist in the country in less than two months, prompting official warnings against the illicit trade, Belga news agency said Thursday.
The latest occurred last week in the Africa Museum in the city of Namur when one man in a gang of three made off with a stuffed white rhinoceros head as his accomplices diverted the attention of staff.
Government officials subsequently issued a statement underlining that trade in rhino horns is banned under the CITES international agreement, the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Officials warned the trade was on rise, with customs seizing seven hauls of horns last year in the European Union against one or two a year in the past.
"A rumour propagated across Asia claims powder from crushed rhino horn can cure cancer," Anne Vanden Bloock told Belga. "This has greatly increased the worth of the horns recently."
Early last month, thieves nabbed a stuffed rhinoceros head from the Brussels Natural History Museum, while a robber also working with an accomplice stole a rhino head in the Liege natural history museum but was caught and the head returned.
Rhinos are often poached too for their horns, made of keratin and sold on the black market for ornamental or medicinal purposes, particularly in Asia.
The two African species and the Sumatran rhinoceros have two horns, while the Indian and Javan rhinoceros have a single horn.
A rising number of science museums in Europe are being targeted for the horns, which can fetch tens of thousands of euros on the black market.
Europol suspects an Irish organised crime group is behind the spate of robberies that has also hit zoos, auction houses, antique dealers and private collectors across the continent.
© 2011 AFP