An antiques dealer who tried to smuggle rhino horns out of Manchester Airport has been jailed for 12 months.
Donald Allison, of Lancashire, hid the two horns in a sculpture as he tried to board a flight to China.
The horns, which could be worth up to £600,000, were from a rhino called Simba which died at Colchester Zoo.
They were destined for the lucrative Chinese medicine market to be sold in powder form. Allison, 62, was sentenced at Manchester Crown Court.
Airport-based UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers foiled the plan on 30 June 2009 after intelligence reports suggested a plot to smuggle white rhino horns on to a flight from Manchester Airport to China via Amsterdam.
The two horns were discovered concealed in Allison’s luggage within a specially constructed false bronze sculpture of a bird on a log.
The “log”, which was constructed from resin and fibreglass, contained the two rhinoceros horns which were wrapped in cling film and tape.
Investigators later used DNA samples to trace the horns back to Simba, 41, which died from natural causes at the Essex zoo in 2009.
Essex Police’s Wildlife Crime Unit established that the rhino’s entire head was stolen and sold for £400 after its body was sent to an abattoir for disposal.
A 52-year-old man, from Chelmsford, admitted the theft and was cautioned by police for the illegal sale of rhino horn.
Speaking after the hearing, Anthony Tropeano, Zoological Director of Colchester Zoo, said: “We are completely sickened by this and it is the last thing we thought could happen.
“Preventing the horns being sold on to the illegal world market is vital to the long term conservation of endangered species and safeguards so many wonderful animals from being targeted, ensuring they live safely whether in the wild, game reserves or zoos.”
Earlier, Jonathan Savage, prosecuting, told the court that Allison claimed to be taking the statue to a man called Mr Payne who he had met at antique fairs in London.
However, experts concluded it was a fake and Mr Savage added: “A person of Mr Allison’s position will have known that it was not a real object.”
Cure for cancer
Allison, of Wilpshire, Blackburn, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to attempting to smuggle an endangered species.
Jed Doran, defending, said his client was just “a link in the chain” and not behind the organisation of the smuggling enterprise.
The UKBA said rhino horns sell in China for anything up to £60,000 per kilo and in powdered form are sold as a cure for cancer.
The horns seized from Allison weighed almost 10kg so could fetch up to £600,000 at current prices.