Rhino horn stock piles worth over $5.2 million have
been stolen from a South African game park office, the raided
tourist agency said, in the first known theft of its kind.
Thieves broke into the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency
and cut into a strong box, making off with 112 pieces of
rhino horn, weighing 80,135 kilograms.
"It's the first time there has been a break in at our
premises, it was obviously well planned," the parks'
spokeswoman Kholofelo Nkambule said.
Elephant ivory, rifles and ammunition, which were in the same
safe, were left untouched, Nkambule said.
Poaching rhinos for their horns is a growing problem in South
Africa and a lucrative business for organised criminal
networks but it is unusual for thieves to target stock piles.
Most of the rhino horns were from de-horning operations,
which is an attempt by local authorities to decrease poaching
and to protect the rhino species.
The biggest market for illegal rhino horn in recent years has
been Vietnam, where the product is sold in pharmacies and
over the Internet at about $65,000 a kilogram, making it more
expensive than gold, platinum and cocaine.
More than 1,000 rhinos were poached last year for their horns
in South Africa, an increase of 50 percent from the previous
year, a government department said in January.
Most of the rhino killings happen in the Mpumalanga
province's Kruger National Park.
"Its scary, we are used to people killing rhinos in the bush
but we never had a situation where horns were stolen from
stock piles," said Ray Thakuli, South African National Parks
"We have never had a situation like this in South Africa, its
the first ever time ... in private or in public parks."
No one had been arrested in connection with the theft and a
spokesman for a national special investigations body, the
Hawks, said they would not "rule out the possibility of an