Gang Steals $650,000 Worth of Rhinoceros Heads From Irish National Museum

AP reports a legendary Gypsy crime network has been linked to the heist.

A gang of thieves stole four rhinoceros heads from Ireland’s National Museum Wednesday night, the Associated Press reported

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Three masked men reportedly broke into the museum’s storeroom, just north of Dublin, and tied up a lone watchman before nabbing the rare animal busts. They loaded up the mammalian loot into a white van and drove away. Nigel Monaghan, a museum keeper, said the stuffed rhinoceros heads carried eight horns that could add up to an estimated €500,000 ($650,000) on the black market.

Of the rhinoceroses in question, three are black rhinos from Kenya and one is a white rhino from Sudan. Both species are critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. As the AP points out, demand from Asian markets has encouraged poachers to render three of the five species of rhinoceroses in South Asia and Africa nearly extinct. While the powdered rhino horns are used as aphrodisiacs, and are even touted as a cure for cancer, they contain “no documented medicinal value.”

The AP reports that officials have linked the heist to an Irish Gypsy gang known as the Rathkeale Rovers, named after the West Ireland village where they’re based. Dubbed the “Dead Zoo Gang” by Dublin tabloids, the Gypsy syndicate has already targeted “museums, galleries, zoos, auction houses, antique dealers and private collections in Britain, continental Europe, the United States and South America.”

As Ireland’s Independent reported, police across eight different European countries arrested 30 members of the Rovers in January, accused of “money laundering, drug trafficking and organized robbery worldwide.” The gang’s criminal activity was so prolific, that in 2011, Europol, the European Union’s police agency, held a special international meeting to “come up with a coordinated approach on how to tackle the crime network.”

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.