Authorities are offering a reward for information leading to the recovery of a century-old rhino horn that was stolen from the University of Vermont last month.
A spokesperson for the university told Vermont Public Radio that the horn had been acquired sometime in the early 1900s for an academic museum and was part of a natural history collection. It came from a black rhinoceros and had hung in a locked room inside the university’s Torrey Hall for decades.
The horn was pilfered in late April when a thief used a drill to bypass a lock meant to protect it.
“My immediate impression is that someone went through some great trouble to target this thing and obtain it,” Robert Rothe, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told The Associated Press.
Campus police have offered up $3,000 for the horn’s return.
Rhino horn is prized in some Asian countries as a cure for everything from cancer to impotence. But the horns have no scientifically-proven medical benefit and are made from keratin, the same material as human fingernails.
On the black market ground horn has reportedly sold for more than its weight in gold or cocaine, peaking at about $65,000 a kilogram in 2012. While prices have fallen in recent years, demand for rhino horn has decimated the few remaining rhino populations left in the wild. More than 1,000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa in each of the last four years, far higher than 2007 when just 13 were killed.
Even animals under protection aren’t safe. Earlier this year, poachers killed a rhino living at a French zoo, then hacked off its horn with a chainsaw before fleeing the scene.
Despite the ongoing threats, South Africa recently lifted its ban on the domestic trade of rhino horn. Commercial rhino breeders, some sitting on stockpiles of horn worth millions of dollars, have long fought for such a ruling, saying funds from horn sales could help save the animals and ensure their survival.
Wildlife groups slammed the move, claiming that a legal trade would only lead to more poaching.
“Legal trade in rhino horn is not the way to stop rhino poaching,” Susie Watts, a senior wildlife campaigner for WildAid, said. “All it does is stimulate demand and provide a cover for illegal trade.”