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12:29pm on Sunday, 27th February, 2011:

Stealing Rhinosceros Heads


Recently, a rhinosceros head was stolen from an auctioneer in Stansted. Nothing else was taken in the raid, just the rhinosceros head.

Why would anyone steal a rhinosceros head, particularly when it was bolted to the wall?

Well, the theory is that it's not the head that anyone wants, it's the horns on the head. They can be ground up and sold for the traditional Chinese medicine market.

I often wonder how that works. You don't hear about criminal gangs breaking into pharmaceutical companies and stealing tens of thousands of pounds worth of Viagra. They just make counterfeit Viagra, safe in the knowledge that no-one will be asking for their money back when they discover that instead of Viagra they have been eating bird droppings dyed blue. Why, then, does the Chinese medicine market require actual rhino horns when they could be selling ground fibreglass and getting exactly the same results?

One possibility is that if you're paying through the nose for ground rhino horn, you want to see the actual horn it comes off. It might be that rather than buying a small bottle of pre-ground rhino horn, buyers want to see it actually being ground off something that looks like an actual rhino's actual horn. You could probably still get away with the fibreglass there, but it would take a bit more effort. It's not just rhino horns, though: traditional Chinese medicine also has uses for some of the components of tigers, mainly the bones. Who on earth knows what a tiger bone looks like? Could you tell one from a lion bone or a bear bone or an ostritch bone? I'd guess that it would probably be easy to pass off some other bone as a tiger bone, but nevertheless people still hunt tigers and trade in tiger bone.

It's weird. It's as if there's a line that criminals won't cross when it comes to traditional Chinese medicine: they're crooks enough to break into an auction house and steal a rhino head, but not crooks enough to tell people they are buying ground rhino horn when it's actually cement dust.

I wonder how many buildings fall down because people use rhino horn instead of cement?

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).