Man jailed for smuggling horns of Colchester Zoo rhino

WILDLIFE crime officers in Essex have been involved in one of their most unusual cases ever – the theft of the head of a rhino that lived at Colchester Zoo.

An investigation was launched after two horns from a white rhino were found at Manchester Airport.

UK Border Agency uncovered a plot to sell the horns to China where, in powdered form, it is believed to cure cancer.

When DNA samples were matched with blood samples kept at the zoo it showed that the recovered horns were from a 41-year-old white rhinoceros called Simba which had died at Colchester Zoo in April 2009.

The Essex Police Wildlife Crime Unit was called in to investigate and found that the head was stolen when Simba’s body was sent to an abattoir for disposal.

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Under strict international law – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – the rhino should have been incinerated.

But Simba’s head, with horns attached, was removed by a member of the abattoir staff and sold for �400.

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A 52-year-old man from Chelmsford admitted the theft and was cautioned for the illegal sale of rhino horn.

On June 30 at Manchester airport the horns, which could sell for up to �60,000 a kilo, were found hidden inside a sculpture of a bird on a log. The sculpture was due to be exported to China.

Donald Allison, 52 of Preston later pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle the horns of an endangered species. He was jailed for 12 months when he appeared at Manchester Crown Court, today, October 5.

Anthony Tropeano of Colchester Zoo said: “We are completely sickened by this and it is the last thing we thought could happen.

“Simba had been at Colchester Zoo for over 30 years and was greatly loved by staff and visitors alike.

“We followed all the regulations required when Simba’s body had to be sent to be incinerated and we are totally disgusted by this horrendous crime.

“We can only take comfort in the fact that the UK Border Agency managed to prevent Simba’s horns actually being used.

“Preventing the horns being sold on to the illegal world market is vital to the long term conservation of endangered species and safeguards so many wonderful animals from being targeted and ensure that they live safely whether in the wild, game reserves or zoos.”

PC Andy Long of Essex Police Wildlife Crime Unit said: “This certainly is not the sort of thing the unit usually deals with in Essex. But it demonstrates that there has been a huge increase in the illegal trade in an endangered species.

“International trade in rhino horn has led to a huge increase in rhino poaching and the value of horn has trebled. The trade is also increasing at an alarming rate in the UK.”

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