Authorities have made a grisly discovery on the farm of an alleged rhino crime syndicate member.
Investigators have unearthed 20 rhino carcasses on syndicate suspect Dawie Groenewald’s “Pragtig” property in Musina. It is suspected that Groenewald – dubbed “the butcher of Pragtig” – purchased the rhinos at auction in order to sell their horns, then simply slaughtered them, to avoid reducing his profit margin with the upkeep expenses of live rhinos.
Groenewald was arrested in September and is currently out on R1 million bail.
Farm workers who were questioned about Groenewald’s Musina property referred to it as an “animal butchery”, prompting investigators to search for the graves of rhinos slaughtered for their horns.
Veterinarian Karel Toet, who was also arrested, was allegedly involved with obtaining the rhinos on Groenewald’s behalf from Kruger National Park auctions.
A Sanparks spokesperson confirmed that Groenewald had bought between 20 and 30 rhino from the Kruger park.
Dr Karel Toet, a vet who was also arrested, acted as a go-between and also bought rhino for Groenewald at the game reserve.
The spokesperson said they stopped selling game to Groenewald when they were informed he was earlier this year found guilty in an American court of exporting an illegally hunted leopard.
At the time of Groenewald’s arrest, there were 32 live rhinos on his property, although Groenewald allegedly stated that he had as many as 80 rhinos on his “Pragtig” farm.
More arrests in this high-profile crime syndicate case are forthcoming, and are expected to shake up South Africa’s wildlife conservation community.
‘Groenewald gang’ released on bail
Groenewald, along with ten other people, was granted bail by the Musina court’s magistrate Errol Luiters. The release date coincided with World Rhino Day, an event to raise awareness about South Africa’s rhino poaching scourge.
Veterinarians and professional hunters are among the accused:
- Dawie Gorenewald – Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris
- Sariette Groenewald – Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris
- Tielman Erasmus – professional hunter
- Dr. Karel Toet – Nylstroom animal clinic and Limpopo Wildlife
- Marisa Toet – Nylstroom animal clinic and Limpopo Wildlife
- Dr. Manie du Plessis – Nylstroom animal clinic
- Marthinus Pronk
- Dewald Gouws
- Leon van der Merwe
- Paul Matomela
- Nordus Rossouw
The suspected rhino crime syndicate members are schedule to appear in court again on April 11th, 2011, to face charges of assault, fraud, corruption, malicious damage to property, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and contravening the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act.
Criminal trial for Fletcher-Saaiman syndicate case
On October 11th, the criminal trial for nine alleged rhino crime syndicate members is expected to begin at the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria. The accused include George Fletcher of Sandhurst Safaris and Gert Saaiman of Saaiman Hunting Safaris.
Multiple charges have been brought against this group, including racketeering, money laundering, various counts of theft, malicious damage to property and contraventions of the various provincial Conservation Acts and the Aviation Act.
Illegal rhino horn trade driven by Asian demand
Rhino poaching is wreaking havoc on South Africa’s rhino conservation efforts. The scourge has reached a 16-year high, with more than 600 rhinos killed since 2005 (WWF).
Sources: K. Bewick, 2010 pers.comm.; News24
Image: Wikimedia Commons