In a tale that’s too bizarre not to be true. On April Fool’s Day, a thief broke into the Museum of Natural History in Paris and attacked an elephant skeleton with a chain saw in order to steal its tusk. The 20-year old thief had two accomplices waiting outside, caught on video surveillance. All three have been picked up. The museum staff was alerted by the alarm at 3 AM when the chainsaw-wielding bandit broke a window in order to gain access. When they heard the sound of a chainsaw, they called the police. In the time it took for the police to arrive, the thief had hacked off the tusk and fled with it, leaving the chainsaw still running in his wake. He was caught with the tusk tucked under his arm.
Who was the victim? An elephant that had been a gift to Louis XIV in 1668. She lived in the king’s menagerie at Versailles until her death in 1681 at the age of 17. The grande dame was the oldest specimen in the museum’s collection. But here’s a wrinkle of elephantine proportions. In the 17th century, this elephant was such a mysterious and prized possession that one of the trunks was examined postmortem for scientific purposes and replaced with a replica in the 19th century. It’s this replica tusk that was stolen.
The word for a tusk in French is une défense (oon dayfehns), which is rather apropos while the animal is alive. How strange to need to defend a defensive tusk over 330 years after the elephant has died! Fortunately, such attacks on the museum’s now defenseless inhabitants are rare. In July 2011, a thief was thwarted in the attempt to steal rhino tusks for the alternative medicine market. Strange but true. What used to defend these animals now makes them victims.
Oudry’s Painted Menagerie: Portraits of Exotic Animals in 18th-Century Europe Jean-Baptiste Oudry
- Thief cuts off tusk from skeleton of King Louis XIV’s pet elephant (theprovince.com)
- Museum thief steals tusk from King Louis XIV’s pet elephant (thetimes.co.uk)
- Chainsaw man caught stealing tusk from Louis XIV elephant in Paris (guardian.co.uk)