Rhino poachers hope to outlast South African & Zimbabwean will to stop them

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)

PRETORIA–Poachers in Borakalalo National
Park, near Brits, South Africa, sent a message
found on October 17, 2010 that mass arrests and
rangers shooting to kill won’t stop them: they
killed and dehorned yet another white rhino,
just days or perhaps even hours after rangers
killed one poacher and wounded another in Kruger
National Park.
A third poacher was arrested within
Kruger National Park two days later, but two
others escaped. A rhino fleeing the poachers ran
over and injured two park rangers who were
involved in making the arrest.

The competence and sincerity of Kruger
National Park management in trying to protect
rhinos was meanwhile called into question after
South African National Parks staff on September
15, 2010 used a helicopter to set a veld fire.
The fire killed at least three rhinos, witnesses
told Sheree Bega of the Pretoria News.
“SANParks described the inferno as a
controlled weather-related experiment in Afsaal,
in the south of the park, to test the
effectiveness of very fast and intense fire in
controlling brush. It said it had expected the
animals to run away from the blaze,” Bega wrote.
Rhino poaching continued at the rate of
about one a day. “Since the beginning of the
year,” reported the Times of Johannesburg on
October 15, 2010, “232 rhino have been poached
throughout South Africa, 104 of them from
Kruger. A total of 119 alleged poachers have
been arrested, 45 of them in the park.” The
rhino poaching toll in South Africa has
quadrupled in just three years.
Agence France-Presse reported on October
5, 2010 that “South Africa has 26 poaching cases
before the courts, with most of the 80 people
arrested of Vietnamese origin,” but published
lists of the arrestees show that the majority are
actually Afrikaners and others of European
descent, with indigenous Africans next most
numerous. Vietnamese rhino horn brokers,
however, are believed to be furnishing the money
causing growing numbers of South Africans to
turn from catering to trophy hunters to supplying
the horn traffic.
South African National Prosecuting
Authority organized crime until chief Johan
Kruger on October 5, 2010 declared that all
rhino poaching will now be treated as a branch of
organized crime, not just as a wildlife offense.
“This will make it harder for those arrested in
connection with rhino poaching to get bail, and
those convicted will face longer sentences,”
explained Bekezela Phakathi of Business Day in
But just a week later Pretoria High Court
Judge Nomonde Mngqibisa-Thusi dismissed charges
against one of four men accused of racketeering,
money laundering, theft, malicious damage to
property, and contravention of the Conservation
Act and Aviation Act in connection with rhino
poaching. Three days later the judge dropped the
charges against the rest.
Kristen van Schlie of Independent
Newspapers identified the suspects as hunting
safari operators Clayton Fletcher of Bloemfontein
and Gert Saaiman of Pretoria, Pretoria hunter
Frans Andries van Deventer, and go-between
Kumaran Moodaly. “Their alleged syndicate is
believed to be responsible for the deaths of at
least 17 rhinos countrywide, from Kruger
National Park to game farms in Bela Bela and
Komatipoort,” wrote van Schlie.
“The operation fell apart on August 23,
2006 when Deon and Nicolaas van Deventer,”
brothers of Frans Andries van Deventer, “were
arrested leaving Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in
KwaZulu-Natal,” van Schlie continued. “Four
bloody horns were found in their car, fresh off
two bulls they killed earlier that day. Along
with middleman Pieter Swart, they pleaded guilty
and received suspended sentences when they turned
state witness.” The trials of the other suspects
were delayed for four years, however, while the
van Deventers balked at actually giving testimony.
“This is not an acquittal. We have the
right to reinstitute charges,” insisted
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson
Mthunzi Mhaga.
Among 21 rhino poaching suspects who were
arrested and charged in South Africa during
September 2010 were at least 11 alleged to have
expanded their operations into South Africa after
starting in Zimbabwe. All were associated with
Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris, a trophy
hunting operation that promoted itself via Safari
Club International conventions. Two more
employees of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris
were arrested in early October 2010.
Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris was
expelled from Zimbabwe in September 2004,
despite reported close associations between
founder Dawie Groenewald and “powerful Zanu-PF
members in Zimbabwe, including Kembo Mohadi,
the joint home affairs minister, and Jocelyn
Chiwenga, the wife of army chief Constantine
Chiwenga,” wrote Ray Ndlovu and Yolandi
Groenewald of the Joannesburg Mail & Guardian.
“Groenewald’s arrest is likely to expose
a lot of high-powered people in Zanu-PF who are
involved in poaching activities. The case is a
time bomb waiting to explode,” predicted
Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force founder Johnny
Rodrigues. Zanu-PF is the party of Robert
Mugabe, who has headed the Zimbabwean government
ever since Zimbabwe was formed out of the former
Rhodesia in 1984.
Rodrigues told the Mail & Guardian that
Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris appeared to
work with a faction of Zanu-PF supporters called
“Zhove invaded five farms in Beitbridge
this year,” reported the Mail & Guardian.
“Zanu-PF’s control of wildlife-rich areas has
enabled it to use poached animals to feed
soldiers and crowds at political rallies.
Wildlife sources said that three elephants and
three buffaloes were killed this week to provide
meat for supporters at a Zanu-PF rally in Gokwe
to open the Women’s Development Bank.
“Rodrigues said Zhove also sold animal
skins to South African poachers, allegedly
including Johannes Roos, who has been linked to
a shady alliance dubbed the Musina Mafia by
locals. Well-placed sources in Musina confirmed
that Roos and Groenewald were close associates,”
the Mail & Guardian continued. “Zimbabwean
wildlife sources said that since 2000, when farm
invasions began, Zanu-PF loyalists have extended
their control over the country’s lucrative safari
business, grabbing all the best reserves.
Jocelyn Chiwenga reportedly controls all
concessions in the Victoria Falls area and deals
with wealthy Americans.
“Although Out of Africa was banned from
operating in Zimbabwe, it is known within safari
industry circles that they have been using an
operation called Africa Dream Safaris to hunt in
Zimbabwe,” Rodrigues told the Mail & Guardian.
“Attempts to get a comment from Africa
Dream Safaris were unsuccessful,” the Mail &
Guardian concluded.
The same day the Mail & Guardian exposé
appeared brought the arrests of eight alleged
rhino poachers at the Nyamacheni Sanctuary in
Guruve, including two indigenous Zimbabweans and
six men from the Democratic Republic of the
Congo. The eight are charged with killing a
rhino a month since June 2010.
But Zhove activities continued,
massacring 560 eland and 300 zebra for their
hides in August and September 2010 near Beit
Bridge, according to Rodrigues.
Land invasions apparently inspired by the
Zimbabwean example have repeatedly cut into the
Nduomo Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Most recently, in the last days of September
2010, 70 invaders destroyed a guard outpost and
a bridge, menacing tourists and rangers,
reported Groenwald of the Mail & Guardian.
“The attack is the latest crisis in the
reserve since the wetland and birding area was
hit by a land invasion by neighboring communities
two years ago, intended to ‘liberate’ it for
agriculture. The invading Bhekabantu and
eMbangweni communities cut down 12 kilometres of
the park’s fence, demanding that they be allowed
to farm inside the park. They have since gone on
to occupy 14% of the reserve, which includes the
most ecological sensitive section of the park,”
Groenewald wrote. “Despite the presence of
troops, including the defence force patrolling
the border, the land invaders continue to
practise slash-and-burn cultivation, destroying
large areas of mature riverine fig forest. Even
more damaging,” Groenewald said, “is rampant
poaching and illegal fishing.”
Police on October 13, 2010 found a
hippopotamus butchering operation in the Muzi
Pans area outside the iSimangaliso Wetland Park
in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Colonel Jay Naicker
told Jauhara Khan of the KZN Mercury. The
remains of at least six poached hippos were
discovered on the premises, along with 15 cable
snares and a crocodile snare.

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