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Large stockpile of rhino horns stolen in South Africa

CAPE TOWN (Xinhua) -- Thieves broke into a secure safe in Mpumalanga Province over the Easter weekend, stealing 112 rhino horns, with a total weight of 80,135 kilograms, the largest theft of this kind in years, authorities confirmed on Wednesday.

The pieces stolen were kept in storage for purposes of registering them, record keeping and later move them to another secure location where a bulk of stock is kept,the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) said.

Some of the horns on the MTPA premises were micro-chipped, DNA- sampled and photographed according to the National Norms and Standards dated April 10, 2012 No 53248, while others were still being processed, MTPA spokeswoman Kholofelo Nkambule said.

The burglars gained access to the storage through an office window. They then cut open a strong room in this office before entering the storage, according to Nkambule.

“We are working closely with the South African Police Service on the matter to ensure that arrests are made. We will continue to look at all possible leads, both internally and externally, to ensure that the criminals are apprehended,” she said.

The special anti-crime unit, Hawks, has launched an investigation into the theft.

Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramoloko said they suspect a syndicate was involved in the theft.

“We believe this is a syndicate, which we are going to pounce on soon. We have already completed the crime scene forensic investigations,” said Ramoloko.

He said this is not a normal housebreaking and theft because millions are involved.

At 60,000 U.S. dollars per kilogram, rhino horn rivals the street value of cocaine, and is almost double the value of gold (about 32,000 dollars a kilogram).

The theft came as rhino poaching continued unabated in South Africa. Latest official statistics showed that since 2008, more than 2,000 rhino have been poached in South Africa, with 1,004 rhino being killed for their horns during 2013. Since the start of 2014, 294 rhino have been poached.

Crime syndicates are believed to be behind growing rhino poaching, fueled by demand for rhino horns which are said to cure all diseases, notably cancer, although there is no scientific evidence to prove this.

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