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Rhino heads stolen from Irish museum

DUBLIN — Masked men stole stuffed rhinoceros heads containing eight valuable horns from the warehouse of Ireland’s National Museum, police and museum officials said Thursday, in a heist being linked to an Irish Gypsy gang that specializes in such raids across Europe.

Police said three men raided the storeroom in Swords, north of Dublin, on Wednesday night and tied up the lone security guard. He later freed himself and raised the alarm.

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Nigel Monaghan, keeper at the National Museum’s natural history section, said the museum had never experienced such a theft before but had worried that the rhinos would be targeted. He said the four heads — three of black rhinos from Kenya, one of the virtually extinct white rhino from Sudan, all killed more than a century ago — were put into storage specifically to safeguard them from thieves.

He said the eight horns could be worth a total of about $650,000 on the black market.

Three of the five species of rhinoceros in Africa and South Asia have been hunted to the verge of extinction because their horns command exceptionally high prices for use in traditional Asian medicine chiefly in China and Vietnam, where the powdered horn is marketed as an aphrodisiac and even as a cure for cancer. The horns are made of keratin, the building block for skin and hair, and has no documented medicinal value.

In 2011, Europol issued a warning that an Irish Gypsy criminal network based in the County Limerick village of Rathkeale was responsible for dozens of thefts of rhino horns across Europe.

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