EAZA: Poachers kill young rhinoceros at Thoiry Zoo

Date: 2017/03/07


Wildlife crime is the world’s fourth biggest sector for organized crime after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking.


The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria has been informed that on the night of 6-7 March, criminals overcame security measures and gained access to Thoiry Zoo near Paris, killing one of three white rhinoceros housed at the zoo and removing one of its horns. Police have launched a criminal investigation into this shocking and deplorable crime. Thoiry is a full Member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) the membership body of the continent's most progressive zoos; all other Members of the Association have been informed about the incident.


The criminals gained entry to Thoiry Zoo by forcing an exterior panel near to the African savannah exhibit, and made their way to the rhinoceros house where they broke open the locked metal gate and a further locked door in the interior of the building, which provided them with access to the animals. They proceeded to shoot the 4-year-old male and remove its horn, probably with a chainsaw. The animal's second horn was partially severed, suggesting that the intruders were disturbed or their equipment malfunctioned. The other two rhinoceros were left unharmed. The crime took place despite the presence on site of 5 members of staff and security cameras.

Rhinoceros horn is highly sought after in illegal markets for traditional medicine, despite a complete lack of scientific evidence of its effectiveness in treating any medical condition. In 2015, reports suggest that 1kg of rhinoceros horn could fetch €51,000 on the black market. All 5 species and 11 subspecies of rhinoceros are threatened with extinction in the wild.


The animal killed by the poachers was born at Burgers Zoo in Arnhem, the Netherlands at the end of 2012, and arrived at Thoiry in March 2015. Since the 19th century, when it was estimated that only 25-30 Southern white rhinoceros (the subspecies of the animals at Thoiry) still lived in the wild, numbers have risen gradually to around 20,000 individuals, of which 18,000 or so live in South Africa. The protection of this endangered subspecies by breeding programmes and zoos is therefore crucial to its survival. The 250 individuals of the Southern white rhinoceros in European zoos are managed via EAZA's European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), the highest level of management among European zoos.

South Africa has seen high levels of poaching in the last few years. In the years between 2007 and 2015, poaching of white rhinoceros has increased from 14 individuals to 1,175 individuals killed annually. In February 2017, several young rhinoceros were killed at the Thula Thula rhinoceros orphanage in South Africa, and the staff were attacked. While thefts of rhinoceros horn have increased across Europe recently, this appears to be the first time an animal has been killed by poachers at a European zoo.


Thoiry has been highly involved in the fight against poaching and trafficking of rhinoceros horns, holding a conference on the subject in 2013 which brought together multiple stakeholders from government ministries, anti-trafficking groups and conservationists. The sale of any item containing rhinoceros horn or elephant ivory is illegal in France and punishable by severe sentences. Wildlife crime is the world's fourth biggest sector for organized crime after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking.


For further details, contact: David Williams-Mitchell, EAZA Communications and Membership Manager at david.williams-mitchell@eaza.net


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