As the wildlife crime industry grows, zoo security has struggled to keep up. Last week, a 4-year-old white rhinoceros named Vince was killed in a zoo near Paris. His horn was sawed off and stolen for sale in the surging ivory market. While the war against the ivory trade has long raged in Africa’s nature parks, this brazen act of poaching at the Parc Zoologique de Thoiry, about 30 miles outside of Paris, offers a glimpse of the international scope of the wildlife crime epidemic.
Vince lived with 3 other white rhinoceroses, in an enclosure that is far from easily-accessible once the park shuts its gates. Making this crime all the more puzzling to investigators. On the night of March 3, at least two poachers broke through a fence, several doors, one of which was metal, and shot Vince dead. Investigation of the saw marks on the removed horn indicate the poachers likely used a chainsaw to remove it. His second horn was partially sawn, but left. The other two rhinos in the enclosure were unharmed, suggesting the poachers might have pulled the plug on the scheme before it was complete. The harrowing scene indicates a quick, but calculated crime that will likely net the poachers between $30,000 and $40,000 USD.
Zoo attendants found the body the next morning and an investigation has been underway since. On French radio, the head of the park, Thierry Duguet confirmed that his staff and the larger zoo community is in a state of shock. He said there has never been a case like this in a Zoo in Europe. With ivory prices soaring and a general crackdown on the trade, as we reported last week, it seems that poaching is reaching a new level of cruelty, as well as new geographies and new levels of security. Poachers have long braved the hazards of parks in South Africa where they play a violent version of hide and seek with armed guards among thousands of miles of wilderness. There’s a million ways to die in a place like that, not just by gunfire. Now, the criminals are bringing the fight to some of the world’s most advanced cities. It’s almost as if poachers realized you could either prospect for gold in the country or you can rob the vault at the bank. Realizing these new hazards, zoos are soon going to need armed guards and state of the art surveillance. The slaughter at Thoiry suggests that not all zoo-goers experience wonder and respect when they view some of earth’s most impressive creatures. They see dollars signs.