Poachers broke into a zoo in France and shot and killed one of its rhinos before fleeing the scene.
On Tuesday morning keepers at Thoiry Zoo, in the suburbs west of Paris, found the body of Vince, a four-year-old white rhino, in his enclosure with wounds to his head and one of his horns likely hacked off by a chainsaw, the zoo said in a statement on its Facebook page. His second horn was partially cut off, suggesting that the culprits may have been interrupted or were using defective equipment after they killed the rare animal on Monday night.
The act was carried out “despite the presence of five members of the zoological staff living on site and surveillance cameras,” the zoo said. “The entire staff is extremely shocked.”
The zoo has two other white rhinos who weren’t harmed. One of them, five-year-old Bruce, came to the zoo with Vince in 2015 as part of a breeding program involving about 250 rhinos in European zoos, reported the BBC. A video, shown above, captures Vince's arrival at the facility.
Thieves have stolen rhino horns from European museums in the past, but it’s believed that this is the first time a rhino has been killed at a zoo in Europe. In recent years planned attacks on zoos in general have increased, said Katherine Johnston, spokesperson for London-based Save the Rhino International, in an email.
“It’s very sobering to think that armed criminals are willing to break into European zoos to kill our rhinos,” she said. “This incident also shows how security is increasingly important for zoos in Europe, as well as for conservationists working in rhino range states.”
What just happened in Thoiry Zoo, she said, is “a new development in the poaching crisis which has escalated since 2008, and we need strong law enforcement to tackle this problem quickly.”
Tuesday’s gruesome event follows an attack on rhinos at an orphanage in South Africa, home to 70 percent of the remaining 21,000 white rhinos. Armed poachers broke into the Findimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage on February 22 and removed the horns of two 18-month-old rhinos, Impu and Gugu, after tying up staff members. One rhino was killed, and the other was later euthanized.
“If you work in this game and work in a facility like this, it’s a constant concern,” Karen Trender, who runs the orphanage, told local media at the time. “It’s something that’s on everybody’s mind at all times.”
White rhinos have been a conservation success story, coming back from the brink of extinction in the late 19th century. Now they’re severely threatened again because of an increase in demand for their horns in Vietnam and China. In those countries the horns are made into valuable carvings and erroneously used as a cure-all in traditional medicine. Roughly a quarter of South Africa’s white rhinos—by far the most abundant rhino subspecies—have been killed between 2008 and 2016.
It’s illegal to kill rhinos, and selling their horns between countries has been banned since 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), the 183-government body that regulates the global wildlife trade.
Last year France banned the sale of rhino horn and elephant ivory within its borders. China and Vietnam also prohibit the rhino horn trade, yet conservationists would like to see stronger enforcement, especially in Vietnam. As of September, Vietnam hadn’t yet launched a single successful high-level prosecution against illegal rhino horn traders.
As for the killing of Vince, an investigation was launched this morning.