Museums take measures against rhino gang

A unique DNA database is being developed in Scotland to help police crack down on thefts of African rhinoceros horns from museums across Europe.

It is thought that organised crime gangs more commonly associated with drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling, have targeted more than 50 museums and auction houses in the past year, including in the UK.

The night-time raids are a response to soaring prices for rhino horn in the Far East, where it can fetch £60,000 a kilo due to its supposed medicinal qualities, making it more valuable than gold and cocaine. Museums in Scotland that possess horns brought back by Victorian and Edwardian explorers have now taken the genuine versions off display and replaced them with plastic replicas.

But wildlife crime scientists at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland are developing a DNA profiling test that can be used to identify stolen horns even when ground down into powdered form. Tiny holes will be drilled in the base of each horn to extract samples from which a DNA profile can be constructed and stored.

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