A rhinoceros was shot in the head three times by poachers in a zoo near Paris overnight. The attackers then cut off its valuable horn from the dead animal with a chainsaw. It is believed to be the first time poachers have attacked an animal at a European zoo.

The poachers are believed to have broken in to the zoo by cover of darkness and and made their way toward an enclosure where three rhinos lived together, according to Le Parisien.

The newspaper reported that a source had said they believed the poachers were targeting all of the animals but had only managed to kill Vince. They said: "It is possible that the thieves did not have time to attack other animals."

It is estimated that a rhino horn is will fetch around £35,000 ($42,600) on the black market. They are a popular ingredient in Chinese medicine as, among other things, an aphrodisiac.

Vince was found with his second horn half hacked off, lending credence to the theory that the assailants made a quick escape without finishing the job.

Vince lived with two other white rhinos: five-year-old Bruno and 37-year-old Gracie. Both animals are said to be safe and healthy.

The authorities have not confirmed what kind of gun was used to kill Vince. Le Parisien's source said: "We asked to do an X-ray but the animal's skin is so thick it turns out it's too difficult, so we still don't know with what type of gun he was killed with."

Northern white rhino
White rhinos are slaughtered for their horns which are popular in Chinese medicine Sheep81 / Wikimedia Commons