Replica display at Merseyside Maritime Museum highlights illegal trade in rhinoceros horns

By Laura McArthur | 14 February 2012 | Updated: 20 December 2002
  • News
  • Archived article
photo of a rhino
A new display in Liverpool will highlight the trafficking of rhino horns
© National Museums Liverpool
The growing illegal trade in rhinoceros horn has been highlighted in a new replica display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool.

Seized! The Border and Customs uncovered is the National Museum of the UK Border Agency, located in the basement of the Merseyside Maritime Museum at Albert Dock where the display will be kept.

The artefacts tell the story of how UK Border Agency officers at Manchester Airport foiled a plot to smuggle a set of rhino horns to China in 2010.

An intensive investigation revealed the horns had been removed from a Colchester Zoo rhino called Simba which had died of natural causes.

Colchester Zoo had legally disposed of Simba’s body for cremation to ensure no part of its body could be illegally traded. But the horns were removed and passed to an antique dealer who was caught at the airport and jailed for 12 months.

The risk of theft from criminals means the museum will not display the real rhino horns, using replicas instead.

“One of the museum’s key themes is anti-smuggling and fighting crime. White Rhino is critically endangered and rhino horn has a rising illegal commercial value as it’s used in traditional medicines in China and Asia,” says Karen Bradbury, the curator of the gallery.

“It’s unusual for a museum to not put something on show. But there are very real fears about the museum becoming a target for criminals and therefore heeding advice not to put real horns on gallery.”

During the past 12 months there have been more than 20 thefts of rhino horns from museums and auction houses across the UK and Europe. Before Christmas, a gang struck at the Museum of Hunting and Nature in Paris and used gas to stun staff before making off with a rhino horn.

“Given the high price for rhino horns we do not want to risk it being stolen back into the illegal market as we have seen with other rhino horns around Europe," says Mark Granville, of the UKBA border crime team.

"That is why we have taken the unusual decision to keep the horns safely under lock and key."

  • The replicas of the horns are now on show. Open 10am-4.30pm. Admission Free. Visit for more information on the rhino display and other collections at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.
  • The World Society for the Protection of Animals is looking for museums to host an exhibition about siezed examples of wildlife crime. Read more.

More Pictures:

photo of a rhino
Simba the rhino used to live at Colchester Zoo© National Museums Liverpool

Photo of an x-ray of a rhino horn
The smugglers were stopped at Manchester Airport© National Museums Liverpool

photo of two people holding rhino horns inside a museum
The real horns and replica display at Merseyside Maritime Museum© National Museums Liverpool

  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share
Museum Crush digest sign up ad