30 April 2012

South Africa: World Wildlife Fund Unhappy With Delays in Rhino Poaching Case

Photo: International Rhino Foundation
Removing the horn of a rhino to make it less appealing to poachers.

Windhoek — The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is unhappy about the latest delays in the South African rhino poachers' court case.

"The 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," WWF-South Africa Chief Executive Officer, Morné du Plessis, said. In a statement released last week the WWF said the case against suspected rhino poaching kingpin Dawie Groenewald, his wife and their alleged co-accused has been postponed to October 19, 2012.

According to the South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the delay is to give the defence more time to finalise their application for further particulars on the charges. The accused appeared in the Musina Magistrate's Court in Limpopo last Wednesday. They face hundreds of charges under South Africa's Biodiversity Act, Medicines and Related Substances Act and the Act on the Prevention of Organized Crime.

The eleven suspects are believed to have killed 20 rhinos and are accused of 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. The world is watching and waiting for justice to be served," the head of WWF's African Rhino Programme, Dr Joseph Okori, said. 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 the black market 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.

R h i n o p o a c h i n g 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 the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) statistics released last week. The DEA says 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. Ther WWF works with the South African government and the NPA to improve forensic investigation of rhino crime scenes and to improve the knowledge and skills of the people who prosecute rhino crimes. "We will continue to watch this case closely," Du Plessis concluded. 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. The WWF supports the creation of a comprehensive rhino registry to track the location and status of all African rhinos.

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