Repeated delays plague landmark rhino poaching case
The case against suspected rhino poaching kingpin Dawie Groenewald, his wife and their alleged co-conspirators has suffered yet another lengthy delay. The defendants appeared in a South African court yesterday where their request for an additional postponement was approved.
The eleven suspects are expected to be charged with hundreds, or even thousands of criminal counts, including illegal hunting, weapons and permit violations, illegally trading rhino horn, as well as fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
“A high level of criminal sophistication was required to orchestrate the killing of these rhinos, but this case demonstrates that no one is above the law, said the head of WWF’s African Rhino Programme, Dr Joseph Okori. “The world is watching and waiting for justice to be served.”
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.
“WWF is as impatient as the majority of the public about the delays in the process but we respect that justice has to follow its course,” said WWF-South Africa CEO Morné du Plessis. “We will continue to watch this case closely.”
The next hearing has been scheduled for October 19.
Rhino poaching in South Africa has spiked in recent years driven by demand for rhino horn in Asia. So far this year 181 rhinos have been killed in the country, according to government statistics released last week. Officials say that popular safari destination Kruger National Park has already lost 111 rhinos this year.
If not curbed, poaching rates could exceed the record 448 rhino deaths that occurred in South Africa in 2011.
“The international syndicates involved in poaching and illegal trafficking of wildlife products are not only reversing decades of conservation gains, they are disrupting economies and destabilizing society,” said Dr Carlos Drews, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme.
“Governments can no longer ignore the threat these criminals pose to the security of their citizens and their wildlife. It will take a concerted effort by ministries of justice, customs, foreign affairs and border protection to take down kingpins who are flouting the rule of law across Africa and in Asia,” Drews says.
Historically, rhino horn has been used in traditional medicine to treat fever, and is sometimes carved for ornamental purposes. In Vietnam a new use for rhino horn has arisen as a purported cancer treatment, despite the absence of scientific support for the claim. Rhino horn has never been used as an aphrodisiac.
South Africa is home to about 21,000 of Africa’s 25,000 rhinos, and a quarter of the country’s rhinos are privately owned. WWF supports the creation of a comprehensive rhino registry to track the location and status of all African rhinos.
WWF also works with the South African government to improve forensic investigation of rhino crime scenes and to improve the knowledge and skills of the people who prosecute rhino crimes.
To help increase the number of critically endangered black rhinos, WWF has invested in range expansion. So far seven founder populations of black rhino have been released into new sites. Through the project, 120 black rhino have been translocated and more than 30 calves have been born.
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