Black Rhino Horn Stolen From UVM Recovered

Mar 14, 2018

In April 2017, the University of Vermont discovered a black rhinoceros horn was stolen from Torey Hall.

Potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on the black market, the horn has now — almost a year later — been found. But not in Vermont.

There are several bewildering elements to the case of the stolen — and recovered — black rhinoceros horn. To start, university officials did not discover the theft immediately.

"It was several days at least, maybe weeks, before we discovered that it was actually missing," says Bill Kilpatrick, a retired UVM professor and curator of the Zadock Thompson Zoological Collections in Torrey Hall. The rhino horn was taken from its home among the mammal collection in Torrey Hall.

Upon discovery of the theft, various parties were called to assist UVM police in their search for the missing rhinoceros horn. This included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New York State Police, the FBI and the Chittenden County State's Attorney Office. 

At the time of the theft, UVM told VPR the horn was acquired in the early 1900s and held at the university's Fleming Museum.

This rhinoceros horn in Torrey Hall before it was stolen.
Credit University of Vermont, courtesy

In the 1950s, university officials said specimens were moved out of the Fleming and to the Department of Zoology, but the paperwork did not move with them.

Months later, investigators received a local tip that the missing horn had made its way to Connecticut. However, obtaining a search warrant to retrieve the horn had its difficulties — "... [the] timeliness component to search warrants is certainly a factor" says UVM Deputy Police Chief Tim Bilodeau.

Investigators needed a different approach: "That was when we started strategizing with the state's attorney and realized that if we had to, we could use immunity for prosecution."

Because the investigation is technically still open, officials were careful not to divulge too much information regarding the legal fate of the suspected thief.

However, they did confirm that the black rhino horn was safely recovered.

"When we have the opportunity to bring something back in the state it was [taken in] — that's a rare opportunity for us," Bilodeau said.  

So where exactly is the treasured rhino horn now?

"We're not going to divulge where it is," says Kilpatrick, "but it's back in the collection. So it's safe on UVM campus, under increased security over what we had previously."

Vermont Edition Intern Lydia Massey is a senior at UVM.

Broadcast live on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.