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White rhino killed by suspected poachers at French zoo

A French zoo and police say intruders have shot dead a white rhino and sawed off its horns. The break-in at the Thoiry wildlife park near Paris is suspected as poaching. Rhino horns fetch thousands on the black market.

Zookeepers at the Thoiry zoo and wildlife park made the grisly discovery on Tuesday after an overnight attack.

"Staff left the rhino enclosure on Monday. When they returned on Tuesday, an animal had been killed and its two horns had been sawn off," a police spokeswoman told news agency AFP.

The 4-year-old white male rhinoceros named Vince had been shot three times in the head. His main horn was stolen, the policewoman said. The second horn was partially cut, leading the zoo to believe the poacher or poachers may have been disturbed or suffered equipment failure.

The zoo said the intruders broke through a gate and forced through two doors to reach the animal, without disturbing the five staff members who live on site. The wildlife park is also equipped with security cameras.

The two other rhinos in the enclosure at the time, a 37-year-old called female called Gracie and a five-year-old male called Bruno, were not physically harmed.

Thoiry Zoo, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Paris, features a safari park that visitors can only access in a vehicle.

Lucrative and deadly trade

Investigators estimate the stolen horn to be worth between 30,000 and 40,000 euros ($31,700 to $42,250) on the black market. Demand comes mainly from China and Vietnam where it is coveted as an aphrodisiac and for use in substances believed to have healing properties. International trade in rhino horn is banned.

Frankreich Nashorn in Zoo erschossen und Horn abgesägt | Thierry Duguet (Reuters/C. Hartmann)

Zoo director Thierry Duguet says poachers shot rhino Vince three times

Last year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported that 1,335 rhinoceroses had been killed by poachers across their native habitats in Africa. That number had been increasing for six years in a row. In South Africa, which is home to 80 percent of remaining rhinos, poaching deaths surged from 83 in 2008 to a record 1,215 in 2014.

The IUCN said the total white rhinoceros population was between 19,500 and 21,500 and the species was considered "near threatened."

Thoiry zoo said that the case was the first killing of a rhinoceros in captivity by suspected poachers in Europe.

Watch video 04:56

South Africa: Rescuing rhinos

se/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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