South Africa vets and hunters colluding with rhino poachers
July 2012. There is increasing evidence of the involvement of a series of vets in the poaching of rhinos in South Africa. Several vets have recently been found to be supplying M99, a drug 1000 times more powerful than morphine, and used to drug very large mammals.
The use and supply of M99 are very restricted, yet it appears that it has been relatively easy to acquire in parts of South Africa. The well documented case of rhino poaching kingpin Dawie Groenewald, his wife and their alleged co-conspirators, is the best known case. The carcasses of 20 rhinos were found buried on Groenewald's property in late 2010.
The rhinos were missing their horns, which are of high value on black markets in Asia, particularly Vietnam. Groenewald and his wife operate a safari tour company and according to investigators, they are said to be the masterminds behind the killings. Other suspects in the case include veterinarians and veterinary assistants, professional hunters and a helicopter pilot.
Head Kruger vet arrested
Two veterinarians and a professional hunter have been arrested in connection with the wrongful possession and distribution of veterinary drugs commonly used in rhino poaching.
The accused Dr Douw Grobler, formerly head of the Kruger National Park's wildlife capturing and veterinary services unit, private vet Dr Johannes Gerhardus Kruger, and professional hunter Hugo Ras are accused of supplying a rhino-poaching syndicate with tranquillisers.
In March 2012, Christoffel Jacobus Lombard, Eugine Petrus van der Merwe and William Theuns Jooste were arrested and charged with possession of M99; Illegal entry upon land with a weapon; conspiracy to commit a restricted activity and fraud.
Corrupt vets, game farmers and hunters
According to Rhino Conservation; Instead of joining South Africa's battle to protect its rhinos, a corrupt minority of game farmers, professional hunters, and wildlife veterinarians have chosen to exchange their ethics for ill-gotten financial rewards.
Indeed, this cesspool of deceit has catapulted South Africa into the unfortunate position of being the lead supplier of illegal rhino horn for the rapacious black market.
Although hundreds of arrests have been made, South Africa's conviction rates for rhino crimes remain deplorably low across the board - consistently less than five percent and even as low as 2.6% in 2010.
And despite indications unethical members of the conservation field are contributing to the carnage, only five percent of the summed 397 rhino-related arrests made in South Africa between 2010 and 2011 (as reported by the World Wildlife Fund ) were "white guys".
Since 2006, 29 "white guys" have been arrested in connection with rhino crimes, and of them:
- Only 2 were sentenced to jail time (the same individuals also seem to be the only ones that have ever been denied bail)
- Over 93% were granted bail, which has ranged in amounts from R3,000-R100,000 (US $397-$13,236)
- 17% were repeat offenders
- More than 20% worked in the veterinary field
- More than 20% were professional hunters
- Around 17% were safari operators
- At least about 72% own, were employed at, or work closely with game farms
- Cases against at least 34.5% of the suspects seem to still be pending, and only half of them are have been scheduled for an upcoming court date
- Cases against at least 17% of the accused have seemingly vanished
- Cases against nearly 14% were thrown out of the courts
- At least 2 have publicly lobbied for the legalization of rhino horn trade
- Six of the 29 individuals arrested since 2006 had faced prior charges for contravening conservation laws, many of them rhino-related.
- Gideon van Deventer was actually out on bail for illegally trading rhino horns in 2006, when he was caught red-handed slaying rhinos just three months later.
- Professional hunter, Peter Thormahlen, had been hit with a "token fine" in 2006 for illegally hunting a rhino (on behalf of a Vietnamese client), before he was brought to court again two years later on identical charges.
(Thormahlen is associated with John Hume, who appears to be a figurehead amongst aspiring rhino horn capitalists in South Africa and, according to iolNews, he also coincidentally owns the world's largest private collection of rhinos.)
- Professional hunter, Christaan van Wyk, had already been twice convicted of rhino horn offenses when he was found guilty of illegally hunting a rhino (also on behalf of his Vietnamese client) in 2010.
- Eight years before being collared in 2011 on suspicions that he may have been supplying rhino assassins with controlled veterinary drugs, wildlife veterinarian Dr. Douw Grobler was fired as head of Kruger National Park's game capture unit.
- South African television news show, Carte Blanche, reported that Grobler was found guilty on nine of thirteen misconduct charges stemming from multiple suspicious, unethical business transactions he made with a game farmer that had been contracted by KNP to undertake a controversial buffalo breeding project on his property.
Prior to the 2011 arrest of professional hunter and game farmer, Hugo Ras, for unlawful possession of scheduled veterinary drugs and an unlicensed firearm, the man had thrice been fined for assault and "crimen injuria" convictions, as well as for contravening conservation and customs laws.
Suspected syndicate mastermind Dawie Groenewald's criminal history is remarkably extensive - including a long list of international complaints, lawsuits, and criminal allegations and convictions - and far pre-dates his 2010 rhino-related arrest.
Among other things, he was terminated from his job as a police officer for involvement in an organized crime ring that was smuggling stolen cars into Zimbabwe and also has a felony conviction in the US for unlawfully importing a leopard trophy (a violation of the Lacey Act).
Apparently, the leopard, unbeknownst to the hunter at the time, had been illegally hunted, as Groenewald never had the required permits necessary to kill the animals. Despite there being verifiable evidence, it seems he has not been charged in South Africa for conducting this illegal hunt.
Source: Wildlife Extra (UK)