A zoo director says a 5-year-old rhinoceros at the wildlife park he runs near Paris has been shot three times in the head by poachers who stole the animal's ivory horn.
Thierry Duguet told the Associated Press that poachers broke into the Thoiry Zoo overnight and used a chain saw to remove the horn from the rhino named Vince. Zookeepers discovered his carcass Tuesday in the rhinoceros' enclosure.
Duguet says police are investigating and the suspects are still at large.
The Thoiry Zoo is famous for its safari park that can only be explored from inside a vehicle.
According to Le Parisien newspaper, a rhinoceros horn can be sold for up to €50,000 ($76,000) on the black market because of a strong demand in Asia linked to the belief that the horns have aphrodisiac powers.
A source speaking to Le Parisien said "the animal had been shot with three bullets to the head, and his horn was cut off with a chainsaw."
In a statement the zoo said that Vince's second horn had only been partially cut, leading staff to believe that the criminals had been disturbed or that their equipment turned out to be defective.
The Rhinoceros Enclosure at Thoiry zoo is situated at the back of the hugely popular African Animal Park Reserve.
Police believe that one or more killers forced a door open at the back of the zoo, before entering the building where three rhinoceros lived under cover.
The other two rhinos managed to escape the attack and were unharmed, the zoo said in a statement.
"It is possible that the thieves did not have time to attack other animals," said a source.
The white rhinoceros was called Vince and was one of the most popular attractions at the zoo, said Duguet.
He said the murderous attack was "unbelievable", adding: "Our fellow European park managers are astonished."
Police and soldiers examining the scene were deeply moved, and angry at what had happened, added Duguet.
There are around 21,000 white rhinos in the world, many still living in the wild, mainly in South Africa and Uganda, but the species is hugely under threat from poaching.
The white rhino is particularly vulnerable, because it is generally an unaggressive animal with very poor eye-sight.
Rhino horns are highly prized in traditional Asian medicine, where they are ground into a fine powder or turned into tablets to be used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, including a loss of libido.
There is a well known smuggling route between France and China, but until now most of the horns have come from poaching gangs working in Africa.
It is not only the first time that a horn has been stolen in Europe, but also the first time that an animal has been slaughtered in a French zoo.
Soldiers from the Thoiry gendarmerie were today leading the criminal investigation, which is being led by an examining magistrate.
Forensic evidence has been found at the scene, but the rhinoceros hide has so far been considered too thick to get an idea of what calibre of weapon was used.
Vince arrived at Thoiry from a Dutch zoo in March 2015, along with another white rhino called Bruno.
It was hoped that they would eventually mate with Gracie, a female rhino already in Thoiry.
In a statement the zoo said: "The other two white rhino living in Thoiry, Gracie 37-years-old, and Bruno five years of age, have escaped the massacre and are safe and sound.
"Vince was found this morning by his keeper who, very attached to animals which she attends, is deeply affected.
"This heinous act was carried out despite the presence of five members of the zoological staff living on site and surveillance cameras."
- with AP