Rhino Crisis Round Up: Prominent South African Veterinarian Appears in Court, Arrests in Nepal & More

Another link between South Africa’s wildlife industry and the country’s rhino killing spree was revealed when South African veterinarian Dr. Douw Grobler appeared in the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court last week.

Although Grobler was not formally charged with a crime, his appearance was apparently part of an investigation into the activities of Hugo Ras, a “controversial” hunter and game farmer.

South African news site The New Age Online reported that Grobler might have been supplying veterinary drugs to rhino horn syndicates.

According to a reliable source close to the investigation, Grobler’s arrest relates to the alleged illegal distribution of scheduled veterinary drugs, such as game-catching tranquilisers, popularly used by poachers to dart rhino for their horn.

The case was postponed to February 28th and Grobler was released on R5,000 (USD $618) bail.

Grobler was the former head of Kruger National Park’s game capture unit.

Unscrupulous veterinarians

In September 2010, the conservation community was shocked when South African veterinarians Karel Toet and Manie du Plessis (and their wives) were arrested. They are suspected of involvement with a rhino horn syndicate headed by Out of Africa Adventurous Safari’s Dawie Groenewald.

The veterinarians (and other “Groenewald gang” members) will face charges of assault, fraud, corruption, malicious damage to property, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and contravention of the National Environmental Biodiversity Act when they return to court in April 2012.

Rhino horn smugglers arrested

In Nepal, three people were arrested with a rhino horn in their possession.

The Himalayan Times named Laxmi Chaulagain, Binod Bista and Mohammad Siddhiki of Dhangadhi Municipality as the suspects.

It is thought that the horn may have come from neighboring India, where a male rhino was found dead near Dudhwa Tiger Reserve.

The suspects claimed to have purchased the rhino horn in India, according to The Daily Pioneer.

During interrogation, the poachers told the Nepal Forest officials that they had purchased the horn from an Indian of Basantapur village in Kheri.

DNA testing, to see if the horn and the carcass are a match, is reportedly under way in this case.

Vietnamese to hunt rhino in Namibia

In a very disappointing turn of events, Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism is said to have granted a hunting permit to a Vietnamese national, for the purpose of killing a rhino.

The permit which was apparently issued by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to the Vietnamese national is for the trophy hunt of a rhino on the Otjiwa Safari Lodge.

It has become well known that South Africa’s trophy hunts are being exploited by Vietnamese “psuedo-hunters” to launder rhino horn for the illegal market in Southeast Asia and China. This scam has been going on for several years, and certainly Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism is aware of the likely purpose of this “rhino hunt”.

(Check out Mules Hunting Rhinos? Sinister Scam Unfolds in South Africa to learn more.)

More insanity

The same article in the Namibian Sun quoted the Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, Uahekua Herunga, as saying that the government should also look into “legalizing” a trade in rhino horn.

But “legalized” trade in rhino horn isn’t likely to gain support from legitimate conservation organizations.

The scheme appears to be driven primarily by a small group of South African game farmers who are attempting to convince the public (and their government) that it’s acceptable to do business with organized crime syndicates and encourage people to consume rhino horn instead of seeking medical attention.

Most recently, WildAid‘s Steve Trent told The Ecologist that the notion of farming rhinos for a legal trade in rhino horn is “insane”.

You’d have to be clinically insane to be promoting that. Virtually any endangered animal will have a trade in its parts, and a legal trade will operate as a cover for an illegal trade. More than that, having these kinds of farms stimulates demand.

People get confused, but this is essentially promoting a market that belongs to a highly endangered animal -and a cover for illegal trade that increases pressure on that animal.

So-called tiger farms are a nonsense. It doesn’t work. If you set up sustainable use that allows trade, there will be an illegal component.

(Read the entire interview here.)

US leads campaign to protect Southern Africa’s rhinos

The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) is standing up to the rhino crisis in Southern Africa through the Operation: Stop Poaching Now initiative.

IRF has partnered with security experts in South Africa to improve anti-poaching operations in eleven highly threatened rhino habitats in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Funds donated in support of the campaign will go toward providing rangers with training in investigative techniques, intelligence gathering, evidence collection, communications, and rhino identification and monitoring.

Rangers will also receive crime scene kits containing a camera, metal detector, GPS, finger-printing materials, and sealable evidence bags.

Dr. Susie Ellis, Executive Director of IRF, noted that the conviction rate for rhino crimes is appallingly low.

Authorities estimate that fewer than five percent of rhino poachers are convicted – they are literally getting away with murder.

But there are thousands of dedicated, passionate rangers in South Africa, Zimbabwe and other range countries trying to stand in between the rhinos and the poachers.

Find out how you can help protect rhinos in South Africa and Zimbabwe at Operation: Stop Poaching Now.

Photo #1: White rhino mum with baby via Shutterstock; #2 Greater one-horned rhino with older calf via Shutterstock; image #3 via International Rhino Foundation.

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