It’s just 61 days into 2012 and at least 80 rhinos have already been killed in South Africa.
South African National Parks (SANParks) released the grim tally earlier this week, along with the news that four Kruger National Park employees have been arrested for suspected involvement with rhino killings.
Dr. David Mabunda, the Chief Executive Officer of SANParks, expressed his disappointment in a SANParks statement.
It is a very sad day for South Africa to find out that the unscrupulous and revolting hands of the poaching syndicates have stretched as far as to taint the hands of those trusted with the great responsibility of being guardians of our natural heritage.
I am personally saddened to discover that some of our own would so callously abuse the confidence and faith that we have entrusted upon them.
The employee case has been postponed until next week for a formal bail application.
43 of the 80 rhino killings occurred in South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park.
Meanwhile, several rhino horns were reportedly stolen from the police evidence laboratory in Pretoria.
A lab clerk, identified as Azarial Shola Matjila, appeared in he Pretoria District Court on Wednesday and “vehemently denied any wrongdoing”.
Rodeo star arrested for rhino horn smuggling
In the US, additional details have emerged regarding “Operation Crash”, which has so far resulted in the arrests of seven people for rhino horn trafficking.
One of the suspects, Wade Steffen, is a former rodeo star, and was a 2010 co-champion at the All-American ProRodeo Finals in Waco, Texas.
In February 2011, he was attacked by a camel and rescued by people who apparently gouged out the camel’s eye.
Steffen is currently in a Texas jail, where he is awaiting transfer to California. He is charged with conspiracy and violations of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; for violating the Lacey Act, five years and $250,000; and for violating the Endangered Species Act, one year and $100,000.
The other six suspects have been identified as follows:
- California: Jin Zhao Feng, a Chinese national who allegedly oversaw the shipment of at least dozens of rhino horns from the United States to China.
- California: Jimmy Kha, the owner of Win Lee Corporation. Seventeen packages received by Kha were opened under federal search warrants and 37 rhinoceros horns were found.
- California: Kha’s son, Felix Kha.
- California: Mai Nguyen, the owner of a nail salon where packages containing rhinoceros horns were being mailed.
- New Jersey: Amir Even-Ezra, who purchased rhino horns from an individual from New York.
- New York: David Hausman, an antiques expert who allegedly purchased a black rhinoceros mount (a taxidermied head of a rhinoceros) from an undercover officer in Illinois and was later observed sawing off the horns in a motel parking lot.
Check out USFWS Director Dan Ashe and USFWS Law Enforcement Chief William C. Woody discussing “Operation Crash”:
The investigation has also revealed that Jim Lolli of Lolli Brothers Livestock Market in Macon, MO, and former Macon Police Chief Scott Ziebarth may be connected to the rhino horn trafficking ring.
Additional arrests are expected.
Arrests in Nepal
The Himalayan reports that Nepalese authorities arrested four people and confiscated a rhino horn over the weekend.
The suspects were identified as Tej Bahadur KC of Sunkhani-1, Sindhupalchowk; Raiman Shrestha of Dhapasi-2, Kathmandu; Devendra Raj Gurung of Chokati-9, Sindhupalchok; and Gyani Bastola of Bhaktapur Municipality -10.
Rhino census in Assam
On March 15th, the Indian state of Assam will begin conducting its rhino census.
The 12-day operation covers Kaziranga and Orang National Parks, and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary.
Although greater one-horned rhinos once lived in Eastern Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, and into Myanmar, they are now found only in India and Nepal.
Rhino chart: Saving Rhinos LLC