A man who broke into the Natural History Museum at Tring in 2011 has been sentenced to 10 months in jail for making off with two model rhino horns.
The sentencing comes as the Elephant Summit, which kicked of this week in Botswana, revealed that as many as 20 per cent of Africa’s elephants could be killed in the next 10 years by illegal poaching. The Elephant Summit aims to agree on policies to end the illegal ivory trade and strengthen elephant populations across Africa.
Ivory elephant tusks and rhino horns are immensely valuable today on the black market. Had the rhino horns stolen from Tring been real, they would have fetched about £240,000 on the black market. Rhino horns currently sell for a higher price than gold.
A spate of similar thefts across Europe had prompted the Museum to replace the real horns with resin replicas just months before the break in in August 2011.
Rhinos currently on display have replica horns.
Darren Bennett, 42, of Leicester broke into the Museum at night, damaging display cases and the rhino specimens, which were collected around 1900.
Bennett was fingered on DNA evidence after a Museum employee found a vital clue on her bike ride home. She recovered a glove that was worn by Bennett when he smashed open the display case.
Tring Museum manager Paul Kitching was pleased with the sentence. “We particularly appreciate the police and courts taking a strong position in protecting our collections. Each of the specimens in our scientific collections is as unique and irreplaceable as a work of art.”
Today, no real ivory or horns are on display in either the Museum at Tring or central London.
An estimated 22,000 elephants were illegally killed across Africa in 2012. Rhinos are increasingly threatened by poaching as demand for their horns for traditional Asian medicines has risen in recent years. This year has already seen a record number of rhino deaths, with more than 700 individuals killed in South Africa, out of a population of only around 22,000.
When ivory specimens are brought into the UK illegally, the Museum works with customs officials and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to identify the species. Museum experts provide evidence and reports that may be submitted as evidence in court cases.