Would-be rhino horn raiders exit museum with worthless warthog tusks
THIEVES stole two valueless warthog tusks from a Pocklington museum after failing to get their hands on a rhino horn.
Rhino horn, an ingredient in Chinese medicine, sells for more than £50,000 per kilogram on the black market.
There have been 57 thefts and 12 attempted thefts of rhino horn across Europe since the start of 2011.
Burnby Hall Museum in Pocklington once had a rhino horn on display – but after the thefts started, it was locked offsite in a secure location.
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Burnby vice-chairman David Geekie said: "It was known we had a rhinoceros horn but we were advised by the museum council and the police to remove it.
"But obviously, someone had picked up on the fact we had one, and sent two guys in to look for it."
The two men entered the museum on an afternoon when it was raining and business was slow.
Mr Geekie said: "These two guys came in, paid their entrance fees, walked around the gardens like normal visitors and then went straight to the place where the horn had been."
When the thieves could not find what they were looking for, one went outside and made a call on his mobile phone.
Mr Geekie said: "One can fantasise about this, but who was he ringing up on his mobile?
"It's a great shame we don't know who it was."
The vice-chairman said he thought after the thieves failed to find a rhino horn, they were told to collect the tusks from the warthog.
He said: "The guy came back inside and tore this poor little warthog head off the wall, stole the tusks – which are completely valueless – and walked outside with them stuffed up his jumper."
Burnby hall has an advanced CCTV system, and the museum's management were able to give very clear images of the pair to the police.
One man also left a handprint on a glass cabinet.
Mr Geekie said: "The police identified one of these guys immediately.
"He was from Essex, but he's no longer at his previous address."
The museum still has its warthog head, and it will soon be returned to its rightful place.
The vice-chairman said: "We're going to get a conservator in and get it restored."
He stressed the museum's rhino horn was stored securely away from Burnby and staff do not know its location.
Rhinoceros horns are made of keratin and used in Chinese medicine to treat fevers and convulsions.
Although science shows they have no health benefits, demand for the horns is still high.
Wild rhino in African parks are protected by armed guards – and the continent has seen a surge in poaching. At least 245 critically endangered black rhinos have been shot this year.
Last month, Prince William hit out at rhino poachers, saying those who took part in the horn trade were "extremely ignorant, selfish and utterly wrong".
Police are still trying to identify one of the two men in the Pocklington theft, and yesterday released a new CCTV image.
Anyone with information should call non-emergency number 101, quoting crime reference number 1901286.
Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555111.
No arrests have been made in connection with the theft, which took place at about 4.20pm on Friday, April 13.