A British zoo has stepped up its security measures after poachers killed a rhino in a French safari park and cut off its horn with a chainsaw.
The four-year-old animal, called Vince, was found dead in Thoiry zoo, not far from Paris, after the savage raid on Monday night.
In light of the attack, keepers at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, have decided to increase the guard around their herd of rhinoceroses.
The Zoological Society of London, which runs Whipsnade, Britain’s biggest zoo, announced its decision earlier last night.
There are 111 rhinos in captivity at zoos across the country, but it is not known if other facilities have taken similar precautions.
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Whipsnade Zoo has stepped up its security measures after poachers killed a rhino in a French safari park and cut off its horn with a chainsaw
White rhino Vince, pictured, has been killed by poachers at a French zoo
A source speaking to Le Parisien newspaper said ‘the animal had been shot with three bullets to the head, and his horn was cut off with a chainsaw.’
In a statement the zoo said that Vince’s second horn had only been partially cut, leading staff to believe that the criminals had been disturbed or that their equipment turned out to be defective.
The Rhinoceros Enclosure at Thoiry zoo is situated at the back of the hugely popular African Animal Park Reserve.
Police believe that one or more killers forced a door open at the back of the zoo, before entering the building where three rhinoceros lived under cover.
The other two rhinos managed to escape the attack and were unharmed, the zoo said in a statement.
Four-year-old white rhinoceros Vince, pictured, was shot dead at Thoiry zoo. He was expected to reach between 40 and 50-years-old
Vince had lived happily at the zoo since he arrived there in 2015 from a Dutch zoo
‘It is possible that the thieves did not have time to attack other animals,’ said a source.
The white rhinoceros was called Vince and was one of the most popular attractions at the zoo, said park director Thierry Duguet.
He said the murderous attack was ‘unbelievable’, adding: ‘Our fellow European park managers are astonished.’
Police and soldiers examining the scene were deeply moved, and angry at what had happened, added Mr Duguet.
There have previously been fears about the threat posed to rhinos in Britain, with the National Wildlife Crime Unit telling 15 zoos and wildlife parks to tighten security in 2014.
In Africa, rhinos are regularly de-horned to deter poachers, but this practice is not thought to occur in Britain, according to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Vince had lived at Thoiry zoo, west of Paris, since being transferred there from Holland in 2015
There are around 21,000 white rhinos in the world, many still living in the wild, mainly in South Africa and Uganda, but the species is hugely under threat from poaching.
The white rhino is particularly vulnerable, because it is generally an unaggressive animal with very poor eye-sight.
Rhino horns are highly prized in traditional Asian medicine, where they are ground into a fine powder or turned into tablets to be used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, including a loss of libido.
Rhinoceros horns, which are said to be an aphrodisiac, can fetch up to £180,000 on the black market.
Rhinoceros horns are in fact composed of keratin with small mineral deposits at the centre. This is often described as ‘Ivory’ in the illegal trade.
Vince (pictured) was one of the most popular attractions at the zoo according to the park’s director Thierry Duguet
Vince arrived at Thoiry from a Dutch zoo in March 2015, along with another white rhino called Bruno (pictured together)
Vince, pictured as a baby, came from a Dutch zoo, along with another Rhino called Bruno
There is a well known smuggling route between France and China, but until now most of the horns have come from poaching gangs working in Africa.
It is not only the first time that a horn has been stolen in Europe, but also the first time that an animal has been slaughtered in a French zoo.
Soldiers from the Thoiry gendarmerie were today leading the criminal investigation, which is being led by an examining magistrate.
Forensic evidence has been found at the scene, but the rhinoceros hide has so far been considered too thick to get an idea of what calibre of weapon was used.
Vince arrived at Thoiry from a Dutch zoo in March 2015, along with another white rhino called Bruno.
It was hoped that they would eventually mate with Gracie, a female rhino already in Thoiry.
In a statement the zoo said: ‘The other two white rhino living in Thoiry, Gracie 37-years-old, and Bruno five years of age, have escaped the massacre and are safe and sound.
‘Vince was found this morning by his keeper who, very attached to animals which she attends, is deeply affected.
‘This heinous act was carried out despite the presence of five members of the zoological staff living on site and surveillance cameras.’
White rhinoceros Bruno (R) and Gracie are seen in their enclosure at Thoiry zoo and wildlife park after fellow rhino Vince was killed in front of them
Bruno (R) and Gracie are pictured on Monday. It was hoped that Vince would eventually mate with Gracie, a female rhino