PARIS—The crime is as shocking as it is sickening.
Early on Tuesday morning, poachers slipped into a wildlife park west of Paris and entered the rhino enclosure. There, they slaughtered a five-year-old white rhinoceros with three bullets to the head before lopping off his horn with what zoo officials believe was a chainsaw.
The crime marks the first time rhino poachers have targeted a zoo in Europe, and has left staff shaken at the Parc Zoologique de Thoiry, where the beloved rhino named Vince had lived since 2015 after arriving from The Netherlands.
"The zoo personnel are extremely shocked," Thierry Duguet, the zoo's director, told L'Express. "Vince was a popular fixture at our park."
In a statement on its Facebook page, the zoo said that the poachers broke into the enclosure by forcing open an outer gate and several doors. It added that the "odious act" was carried out despite security cameras and the presence of five staff members living on grounds, suggesting that the poaching was the work of professionals.
"Vince's second horn was only partially cut, either because the criminals were disturbed or because their equipment failed," the statement said.
Rhinoceros horns are valued in Asia for their supposed medicinal properties, particularly in Vietnam and China, where horns have a reputation as potent aphrodisiacs. A single horn typically fetches tens of thousands of dollars on the black market. Duguet told France Bleu that one kilo of rhinoceros horn was worth between €40,000 and €50,000 (roughly $42,000 to $53,000) on the Asian market, despite no evidence that the horns actually possess any medical benefits.
"Rhinoceros horns are made of keratin—the same substance our hair is composed of, and there are no medicinal or magical properties," he said.
Largely because of poachers, there are only about 20,000 white rhinos like Vince left on the planet.
Last August, France introduced a total ban on elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns, although the possession of ivory and horn is still permitted.
Police have launched an investigation to track down the poachers, but thus far little information has been uncovered. Indeed, even the type of gun used to kill Vince has yet to be identified. Two other rhinos in the enclosure with Vince were left unharmed, likely because the perpetrators had to act quickly.
"It's possible that the thieves didn't have the time to get the others," a source close to the investigation told Le Parisien.
The Parc Zoologique de Thoiry has alerted other European zoos about the poaching. However, what additional security measures, if any, the wildlife park plans to implement have not been revealed. Calls placed to the zoo by The Daily Beast on Wednesday were unanswered.
In the meantime, thousands of condolence messages have been left on the zoo's Facebook page condemning the brutal crime and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
"How could someone commit such atrocities!" Camille Defleschelle wrote. “I hope they will be found and judged severely for their act."She added: "Otherwise, let's put them in the lion enclosure and let the lions take care of them."