When airport officials confiscated and X-rayed a suspicious looking bronze statue of a bird sitting on a log at Manchester Airport last year, they might have wondered which high-value drug it would contain.
The supposed antique did indeed turn out to be fake, with the log concealing a stash of smuggler's booty worth £30,000 per kilo – but it was rhino horn rather drugs that Donald Allison was trying to sneak through security.
Yesterday the 62-year-old, whose hidden hoard was worth £180,000 in total, was jailed for 12 months for the attempted exportation of horns from an endangered species. Mr Allison had told the UK Border Agency he was taking the false resin log to a friend in China, who had bought it in the UK for £2,000. In fact it was bound for the far east, where powdered rhino horn is believed to cure for cancer.
The two horns, which weighed more than nine kilos and were wrapped in cling film and tape, had been taken from the body of Simba, a 41-year-old Southern African rhinoceros that was humanely destroyed at Colchester Zoo in April 2009.
The source of the horns was tracked down using DNA samples. Essex Police's Wildlife Crime Unit said they believed the rhino's entire head had been stolen and sold for £400 after its body was sent to an abattoir. The person behind this crime, however, remains unknown.
Colin Brown, the UK Border Agency's Assistant Director at Manchester Airport, said: "Had this plot been successful it would have fed demand for rare and exotic animals on the illegal world market and led to the further attempts at unscrupulous exploitation of endangered animals."