White rhino killed by poachers at French zoo

A southern white rhinoceros, seen here in Kenya

Intruders at a French zoo have shot dead a white rhino and hacked off its horns in a grizzly overnight poaching incident, police and the zoo said Tuesday.

The perpetrators forced the main gate to Thoiry zoo near Paris and broke through at least two other security barriers on Monday night, without disturbing five people who live on the grounds.

The animal, a four-year-old "critically endangered" white southern male named Vince, was attacked inside an area where at least two other rhinos are kept.

"Staff left the rhino enclosure on Monday. When they returned on Tuesday, an animal had been killed and its two horns had been sawn off," a police spokeswoman told AFP.

She added that the horns were "probably cut off with a chainsaw".

The rhino had been shot three times in the head.

"Only the main horn was stolen," the spokeswoman said.

Investigators estimate the horn is worth 30,000-40,000 euros ($31,700-$42,250).

Black market rhino horn sells for up to $60,000 per kilo -- more than gold or cocaine -- with demand principally coming from China and Vietnam where it is coveted as a traditional medicine and aphrodisiac.

In the last eight years alone, roughly a quarter of the world's rhino population has been killed in South Africa, home to 80 percent of the remaining animals.

According to the zoo, this would be the first time a zoo was the target of an "attack" of this nature leading to the death of a rhino.

Thoiry zoo is equipped with video surveillance, but cameras are not installed in the area where the rhinos live.

"This was carried out despite the presence of five members of staff who live on the site and (despite) security cameras," the zoo said.

The two other rhinos in the enclosure with Vince which were unharmed were a 37-year-old female, Gracie, and a five-year-old male, Bruno.