A rare black rhinoceros horn, estimated to be worth up to half-a-million dollars, made its way home to the University of Vermont last week after spending almost a year in Ridgefield.

According to a report in The Burlington Free Press, Ridgefield police recovered the stolen rhino horn March 6 and returned it to the university’s zoological collections display case.

A person involved in the horn’s recovery, a Ridgefield resident, was granted immunity in the case in exchange for the object’s safe return, the report said. It was unclear whether the person granted immunity in the horn’s recovery had stolen the object, or had the horn in his or her possession.

Campus police for the University of Vermont said they worked in conjunction with the Ridgefield police to find the horn, which was discovered stolen on April 27, 2017. University police offered a reward for the horn at the time, though no amount of reward money was ever published.

An officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told the Associated Press that a drill was used to break open the lock to the hall where the horn was being displayed. The horn, which was acquired by the school’s Fleming Museum in 1900, is said to be worth at least $200,000 on the black market.

The Washington Post reported last year that the price for a full rhino horn had “increased 20 to 30 times in recent years … [selling] for $500,000 to $1 million.”

Black rhino horn, which is made up of keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails, is the subject of a thriving international black market trade. Buyers in Vietnam and China have driven up the price of the horns in illicit deals, because the horn is said to have medicinal properties when ground up and ingested.

The Ridgefield Police Department was not available for comment at press time.  

“I never thought we’d see it again,” said Bill Kilpatrick, curator of vertebrate section of the collection and a professor emeritus of biology at the university. “Needless to say, we couldn’t be happier.”

Background on UVM’s rhino horn

Editor's note: The following was written by the University of Vermont and provided to The Press Wednesday, March 14.

The University of Vermont’s rhinoceros horn was acquired in the early 1900s by the Fleming Museum and housed mostly likely in Williams Hall, where the museum’s natural history collection the university’s Zoology Department were located. 

In about 1950, the Fleming transferred ownership of the rhino horn, and the rest of its natural history collection, to the Zoology Department. But the paperwork didn’t move with the rhino horn – so the details of the horn’s provenance are vague.

In the mid- 1980s the collection and the rhino horn moved to Torrey Hall as part of the Zadock Thompson Natural History Collections. The collections are the official research zoological collection of the State of Vermont. While this collection includes birds, amphibians, lizards, snakes, fish, mollusks, and other taxonomic groups, the historical focus has been on mammals and arthropods. The mammalian collection is very strong at over 10,000 mostly local mammals, while the insect collection comprises the vast number of specimens with over 250,000 samples. 

The collection is used for teaching and scholarship and is not open to the public. Torrey Hall once contained classrooms but is now entirely given over to the collection, with one teaching lab in the building’s basement. 

 Staff from the biology department noticed the horn was missing at about 2 p.m. on Thursday. 

The horn is from a black rhinoceros. It is significant from a scientific standpoint because it contains genetic material that would provide insight into black rhinoceri at about the turn of the last century.

Zadock Thompson Zoological Collections

Biology has primary responsibility for the Zadock Thompson Zoological Collections in Joseph Torrey Hall. Vertebrate collections, curated by Dr. Kilpatrick, include fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

The Invertebrate collection, curated by Dr. Ingi Agnarsson, include insect larvae, spiders, snails and other invertebrates. The Zoological Collections, in conjunction with the Pringle Herbarium administered by the Department of Plant Biology, represent the major natural history facility for the state of Vermont.

UVM’s brief story is here: http://www.uvm.edu/~uvmpr/?Page=news&storyID=25746&category=ucommall