Two rhino horns were targeted in a theft at the Natural History Museum at Tring, Hertfordshire, last weekend. However, the thieves only got away with replicas.
The horns were from rhinoceros specimens on display and were removed in a break-in at 4.30am on Saturday 27 August. The horns have no financial value.
The incident follows a spate of break-ins at museums and other institutions across Europe in recent months.
White rhino specimen at Tring that had its lower replica horn stolen
Rhino horn is extremely valuable in illegal markets, where it is sold for use in some traditional medicines in Asia or as trophies.
The Natural History Museum in London and Tring had recently replaced all of the horns on display with hand-crafted replicas in response to these events.
The thieves damaged the building and displays and caused the closure of the Museum for a few hours on Saturday morning. A police investigation is underway.
'We were deeply saddened by this pointless theft. The rhinoceros horns that were stolen were replicas made out of resin, so they have no commercial value,' says Paul Kitching, Natural History Museum at Tring Manager.
‘We're now working with the police and urge anyone with any pertinent information to get in touch.’
Investigator Kevin Deudon, from Hemel Hempstead police station, is appealing for information.
'Were you in the Akeman Street area of Tring either prior to or shortly after 12.30 am or 4.30am Saturday morning? Perhaps you were in the Tring area and saw a dark coloured hatchback, possibly an estate car, being driven quickly or suspiciously?
'If you have any information at all, no matter how small or insignificant you think it may be, I would urge you to contact the police immediately on 101.'
The replica horns were attached to a white rhino and an Indian rhino, animals that were collected in about 1900 and that were part of an important Lionel Walter Rothschild specimen collection.
The Indian rhino came from Cooch Behan in India and the white rhino from an area called North East Mashonaland, now in Zimbabwe.
The horns each weighed approximately 2kgs. If they had been real, reports say they may have fetched about £240,000 on the black market.
The trade in rhino horns is illegal and this month the UK government secured an international agreement to curb this trade.
Poaching is one of the main threats to rhino survival, with rhino horns now being sold for more than diamonds and gold.
For example, poaching has increased in South Africa this year, with nearly 200 rhinos killed already, the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC reports.
The Indian rhino, Rhinoceros unicornis, is classed as Vulnerable in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List and the white rhino, Ceratotherium simum, is classed as Near Threatened.