William Kentridge, "Untitled (Rhino III)," 2007. (COURTESY OF GALLERY PLAN B)

“It is a new crime phenomenon targeting people who may not have ordinarily been victims of crime and who are vulnerable victims. . . . And we are not dealing with petty criminals.”

That’s Patrick Byrne, Europol's head of unit for organized crime networks, talking about thefts of rhino horns.

That’s right, rhino horns.

Byrne tells the Guardian in a story this week that an organized gang “of Irish ethnic origin” that has a background in violence, drug trafficking and intimidation is responsible for a spate of thefts of rhino horns across Europe.

Over the past six months, 20 thefts of the precious horns have taken place in seven countries.

The thieves, according to Byrne, are selling the lucrative horns for use in Chinese medicines. Rhino horns can fetch twice the price of gold.

The methods used to steal the horns, according to Detective Constable Ian Lawson from the Metropolitan police’s art and antiques unit, include “smash and grab” raids and “hostile reconnaissance” from gang members.

In a recent theft, the thieves bypassed lavish gold burial masks and a priceless Hawaiian cape in a British museum to grab Rosie the rhinoceros’s horn.