JOHANNESBURG – Amorous men ingesting rhino horn as an aphrodisiac may find themselves going stiff in a way they did not really expect, the Iziko Museum in Cape Town warned yesterday.

Iziko chief executive Henry Bredenkamp said thieves who lifted priceless rhino horns from the museum over the weekend might have let themselves in for more than they bargained for, as these had been treated with highly poisonous solutions.

Bredenkamp explained how thieves stole two rhino horns from the museum’s white rhinoceros in a “carefully planned” operation on Saturday night.

He said evidence at the scene indicated the exhibit had been targeted deliberately. Nothing else was missing, although a second rhino display had been severely damaged by the robbers in their vigorous efforts to dismount its horns.

Bredenkamp said the thieves had unknowingly exposed themselves to worse dangers than those of arrest and prosecution, as the stolen items were historical specimens dating back to the late 19th century.

At that time, taxidermy mounts were prepared by soaking them in arsenic, and preserved from insect infestation through the regular application of DDT, said Bredenkamp. Both are highly poisonous and retain their toxicity over time.

Bredenkamp noted that natural history museums were being targeted because there were lucrative markets for rhino horn in the Middle East and Asia.

Bredenkamp said many stolen horns ended up being sold as aphrodisiacs in Asia, where it is usually ingested in powdered form.

Most nature reserves have had to improve security due to the upsurge in rhino poaching, making museums of natural history a tempting target for unscrupulous thieves hoping to turn a quick buck in rhino horn sales on the black market.

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