South Africa: 2011 Rhino Death Toll Surges to 200

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The slaughter continues unabated.


New figures released today by WWF indicate that South Africa’s rhino crisis is not improving, and appears to be getting worse. Nearly 200 of the country’s iconic pachyderms have been slaughtered during the first half of 2011, thanks to continued use of illegal rhino horn in China and Vietnam.

Rhino horn is a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, although scientific analysis has shown there are no medicinal properties in rhino horn.

International criminal networks

South Africa’s onslaught is being orchestrated by international criminal networks using helicopters and automatic weapons to wipe out rhinos in nearly every part of the country, from national parks to privately-owned game ranches.

WWF’s African Rhino Programme Coordinator, Dr. Joseph Okori warned that these operations have jeopardized the country’s successful history of rhino conservation.

South Africa is fighting a war against organized crime that risks reversing the outstanding conservation gains it made over the past century.

Of the 200 rhinos killed this year, a whopping 126 of them were gunned down in South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park.

WWF opposed to bail

Dr. Okori further noted that his organization opposes bail for rhino crimes.

Swift prosecutions of wildlife crimes and strict sentences for perpetrators will serve as a deterrent to potential criminals. Poachers should be shown no leniency.

He pointed out that suspects who are out on bail continue to pose a threat to rhinos, and also contribute to delays in court proceedings.

In 2010, 165 people were arrested in South Africa for rhino crimes; four were convicted. So far this year, out of 123 arrests, there have been six convictions. Some cases are still ongoing.

Enforcement needed ‘at both ends’

Besides South Africa’s efforts to get a grip on the rhino crisis, cooperation is needed from rhino horn consumer countries, according to Dr. Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Only a concerted international enforcement pincer movement, at both ends of the supply and demand chain, can hope to nip this rhino poaching crisis in the bud.

TRAFFIC’s research revealed that the majority of rhino horn leaving southern Africa is destined for consumer markets in China and Vietnam.

Arrests within wildlife community

In addition to the assault from the East, the rhino crisis is exacerbated by greed from inside South Africa’s borders.

A disconcerting number of arrests have been made within the country’s own wildlife community; the crimes are frequently perpetrated under the cover of South Africa’s legal rhino trade loopholes.

Suspects include professional hunters (and/or their clients), game farmers, veterinarians, and game reserve employees:

  • February 2011: After killing two rhinos on a legal hunt on a farm in Musina, a pair of Vietnamese nationals were arrested at the Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria when they were found to be in illegal possession of four rhino horns. They had arrived at the airport in a private helicopter belonging to the game farmer. At least one of the smugglers was released on bail.
  • January 2011: Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Andre Charles Uys was arrested for illegally removing the horns from 15 rhinos in the Maremani Game Reserve, located in Limpopo Province. Uys was released on R10,000 (US $1,416) bail by the Musina Magistrate’s Court.
  • January 2011: Mossel Bay hunter Christaan Frederik van Wyk was ordered to pay a fine of R30,000 (US $4,246) for illegally shooting a white rhino. The conviction stemmed from a hunting expedition with a Vietnamese client (Nguyen Tien Hoang) in Leshoka Thabang Game Lodge, on April 27th, 2006.
  • December 2010: An article in Bloomberg noted that South African hunter Peter Thormahlen has had at least two tangles with the law regarding involvement with the illegal rhino horn trade. In the first case, he was said to have paid a “token” fine, and his second case was dismissed.
  • October 2010: The criminal trial of safari operators George Fletcher and Gert Saaiman, along with professional hunter Frans van Deventer raised hopes that meaningful legal action would be taken against syndicate crimes. However, the case was thrown out by the North Gauteng High Court (the State’s star witness was apparently intimidated into not testifying) .
  • October 2010: Two KZN Wildlife staff members were arrested at Hlabisa and iMfolozi game reserves, and three KZN wildlife officials were suspended; their disciplinary hearing has been postponed several times.
  • September 2010: Eleven people, dubbed the “Groenewald gang” and allegedly led by game farmer and safari operator Dawie Groenewald were arrested in Limpopo Province. In addition to Groenewald, the suspects include two veterinarians (Karel Toet and Manie du Plessis), their wives (Sariette Groenewald and Marisa Toet), and at least one professional hunter (Tielman Erasmus). To see the entire list of “Groenewald gang” suspects, click here.

Regarding suspect Dawie Groenewald, Ian Michler of Africa Geographic notes that he is still in operation.

Not only does the man still carry his hunting licences, but the provincial authorities continue to issue him with permits to hunt and move rhino around the country. Bear in mind that magistrates deemed the charges serious enough to set bail at a whopping R1 million. Despite this, he *or* his company has seemingly been issued with at least 12 rhino hunting permits in the last few months, and they have been granted permits on at least 8 occasions to “convey” rhino, not to mention a host of other species.

Dawie Groenewald’s bail amount was reduced earlier this year from R 1 million (USD $147,065) to R 100,000 (USD $14,705) by the Musina magistrate’s court in Limpopo.

The case is expected to resume in September 2011.

Among the litany of charges faced by Groenewald and his henchmen are assault, fraud, corruption, malicious damage to property, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and contravention of the National Environmental Biodiversity Act.

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Image #1 © iStockphoto.com; #2 © Saving Rhinos LLC

Rhishja Cota-Larson

I am the founder of Annamiticus, an educational nonprofit organization which provides news and information about wildlife crime and endangered species. I am the Editor of Rhino Horn is Not Medicine and Project Pangolin, author of the book Murder, Myths & Medicine, a writer for the environmental news blog Planetsave, the host of Behind the Schemes, and Producer for the upcoming documentary The Price. When I'm not blogging about the illegal wildlife trade, I enjoy gardening, reading, designing, and rocking out to live music.

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One Comment

  1. I totally agree with Okuri in denying bail to any person or group of people caught poaching or being involved in any aspect of poaching. In the cases of people in South Africa who have licences, permits or are practicing as Vets, immediately upon arrest irrespective of whether a conviction has been handed down – should have ALL permits made null and void; and licences as Helicopter pilots should be withdrawn and access to airfields be barred; and any Vet should be immediately struck off the roll and be blacklisted from accessing any medication forthwith. Should anyone own a lodge, game farm / farm, these properties should be forfeit to the WWF to be used for the rehabilitation of wildlife, and / or sold for funding the set up, training and maintenance of protection game ranger units for all reserves throughout the Rhino World; by means of aerial, wheeled and foot patrols; to aquire the necessary weaponry for Rangers and all medical assistance and supplies, as are needed to preserve the Species.
    Rhinos are under assault world wide, but South Africa has, by far the largest percentage of a very small and vital gene pool, which has to be protected at all costs. I say POISON THE HORNS, send the message out there – buy at your own peril and stop the demand. Time is running out. Extinction is forever!
    I would also send a challenge out there to ‘big’ business, and the multimillionaires who spend millions at the drop of a hat to buy expensive properties, or throw extravagent birthday parties – why dont you invest in this Country’s wildlife heritage – we need the financial support NOW and the political and economic and social
    clout to bring pressure to bear on the Authorities to get more people on the ground to seal our borders and protect our Rhino. Form one umbrella organisation that can bring all the anti-poaching groups together, to be effective, NOW! What a legacy that would be – for you, for us, for our children and most of all the Rhino. Please act now!