Dumb it down
Why is everyone talking about Travellers and rhino horns?
You may have noticed that everyone is talking about Travellers and rhino horns today. Why? Well, police have linked a multi-million dollar global trade in stolen rhino horns with members of a criminal network, allegedly run by members of the Travelling community from Ireland, called the ‘Rathkeale Rovers.’
Why are they selling rhino horns? Have the police made any arrests? And, more importantly, how are they able to get close enough to a rhino to steal its horn in the first place?
So many questions…
This story is insane. What the hell is going on?
Right, well this is something that has been going on for ages now, so it’s probably best if we start from the beginning.
For the past few months, a criminal network, allegedly run by members of the Travelling community, has been under investigation by police in the United States and the European Union police agency, Europol, regarding the illegal trading of stolen rhino horns.
Eh…why would they want to steal rhino horns?
The illegal trading of stolen rhino horns is actually fairly lucrative when it comes to making money. As well as being worth ridiculous amounts of cash, rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine. So needless to say, a lot of people would be more than willing to pay big bucks for some.
It’s also considered a mark of status and so it is also used to make luxury goods.
Okay, so how did this all begin?
Back in February of last year, three US agencies set up a massive operation to uncover buyers of rhino horn so they could be prosecuted under law.
As part of "Operation Crash," 37 rhino horns were seized and eight people were arrested. It was also discovered during this period that a larger criminal network was running the entire thing.
Recently it was revealed that the people at the top were Travellers who were originally from County Limerick.
Have any of the Irish members been arrested yet?
No, none have been carted away by the police just yet, but more arrests are expected in the future.
How did the police discover the Irish link?
Apparently two Irish men, namely Richard O’Brien and Michael Hegarty from Rathkeale in Limerick, were acting dodgy and it wasn’t long before police in the US started to investigate further.
The two men were eventually arrested in a sting attack after they paid undercover agents $17,000 for four black rhino horns in Colorado in America. When asked how they were planning to transport the rhino horns, the men said that they were planning to hide them inside furniture that they would then ship back to Ireland.
The Irish Examiner quotes Edward Grace from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (one of the US agencies that helped initiate Operation Crash) who says the entire illegal trade in rhino horn is "really being fuelled by the Irish Travellers", though he does mention Chinese and Vietnamese criminals as being involved too.
So what’s being done now?
Police are investigating further but these things usually take a while to sort out.
Does this mean that there's some rhino horn floating around in Ireland right now?
Probably, but remember, it's super-illegal to buy or sell it, so if you find a horn at a car boot sale, it's probably best to just leave it there. Or notify the gardai. Either or...