15 Aug, 2009

Fears for stolen Natural History Museum birds

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Detectives fear that almost 300 rare and “irreplaceable” tropical birds stolen from the Natural History Museum’s ornithological collection could be ripped to shreds for use as fishing lures, dress adornments and costume jewellery.

Curators at the museum’s bird collection in Tring, Hertfordshire, noticed that dozens of specimens had gone missing following a break-in on 24 June.

Although the thieves left behind more than 8,000 “specimen types”, including the finches collected by Charles Darwin in the Galápagos, they took 299 birds.

The gang, which could have stolen the birds to order, removed quetzal and cotinga birds, animals that had originated in Central and South America, and birds of paradise from Papua New Guinea.

Police believe those responsible had detailed knowledge of the birds since the cabinets were labelled with Latin names organised in evolutionary order and only a small number of birds were disturbed.

Detective Inspector Fraser Wylie, leading the inquiry, said that besides collectors, the fishing market could be a suspect “because of the nature of the features and colour of [the] feathers”. Dress and jewellery makers were also a possibility.

Some of the missing birds were more than a century old.

Professor Richard Lane, director of science at the Natural History Museum, said the animals had played a key role in the study of the history of their species and could prove impossible to replace.

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