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Pretoria - The DA has called on the public protector to investigate further after five co-accused of rhino horn trader Chumlong Lemthongthai walked free as the Thai national was handed down a 40-year sentence last week.
While welcoming the sentence, DA water and environmental affairs spokesman Gareth Morgan said there were questions unanswered around the withdrawing of charges against game farmer Marnus Steyl, professional hunter Harry Claassens and three other Thai nationals.
He also drew attention to possible corruption and collusion in the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism.
“The publishing of a video on the website of the Mail & Guardian on Friday, showing a pseudo-rhino hunt at which Lemthongthai was present along with several co-accused, strongly suggests that there are charges that the co-accused need to account for’’ Morgan said.
“Lemthongthai pleaded guilty to 59 charges. With so many charges, it is incomprehensible that prosecution was not pursued against other individuals.
“Beyond the co-accused of Lemthongthai, it is time that [North West departmental] officials are also held to account for their role in awarding permits for pseudo hunts in 2010 and 2011. Government officials were at the start of the chain that resulted in illegally attained horns getting into the hands of Lemthongthai.
“But no investigation has been done into the officials in North West to establish whether they knowingly issued permits for pseudo rhino hunts, and whether they made any attempt to ensure hunts complied with permit conditions.”
Echoing Morgan’s concern, environmentalist Chris Mercer said: “South Africa’s environmental conservation and permit system has been turned on its head by an onslaught of international crime syndicates, members of the hunting fraternity, as well as the legal, albeit unethical practice of canned hunting”.
Meanwhile, international conservationist Dr Ian Player has called on President Jacob Zuma “to urgently increase government efforts and take a personal interest in this very serious struggle to protect and save Africa’s heritage, which is symbolised by the rhino”.
“This is a monumental disaster… and I appeal to conservationists all around the world to ensure the last remaining rhinos get the full protection from all governments. It is imperative that the hunting organisations monitor the bad apples in the hunting fraternity and expose them, because if they don’t, they will suffer severely and this will be detrimental to the conservation of all species in Africa,” Player added.
He said the rhino crisis had reached unprecedented levels. It was a matter of great urgency, and all government departments should collaborate in eliminating the scourge.