It was the killing of three white rhino on his farm that influenced Dr Walt Ward’s decision to sell his animals to suspected poaching kingpin Dawie Groenewald and North West rhino owner John Hume.
One of the victims was a cow whose horn had already been removed, but poachers still hacked out the few centimetres of remaining stump. Her six-month-old calf lay dead next to her.
Then another four of the herd went missing – along with about 2 000 head of game, worth about R6.5 million. The rhino had to be moved to a place of safety, decided Ward.
“Once poachers know the location of the rhino and how to access the farm, it’s almost impossible to catch them,” he explained. “And there’s not much point in buying rhino and keeping them on a farm far away.”
So off the group went, to sanctuary. Three months later, Ward has finally found buyers for his herd – alleged poaching kingpin Dawie Groenewald and North West rhino owner John Hume.
Six cows would go to Hume for breeding, while the three bulls were set for Groenewald’s own farm, Prachtig.
Groenewald has, since the beginning of the year, been issued with a dozen permits that allow him to hunt white rhino, serval, leopard, civet cats and a wild cat.
On Wednesday, wildlife activists desperately appealed to civil society to help raise the funds to buy the rhino themselves and keep them in the place of safety.
But the contract was signed, the deposit transferred and on Thursday Groenewald was expected to have collected the animals.
He didn’t turn up and rumours abounded: that a 13th-hour court order prohibited him from trading in rhino, or that the vet refused to help with the move given the negative media coverage.
Neither could be confirmed.
When The Star contacted Groenewald, he said: “From now on, your paper must speak to my lawyer.” The Star was unable to.
On Thursday, The Star reported that Groenewald and his co-accused faced hundreds of charges related to poaching, including fraud, corruption, assault and defeating the ends of justice.
However, during the bail application, Groenewald’s lawyer, Thomas Grobler, insisted there was no evidence before the court that his client was a poacher, emphasising that no formal charges were laid by the State.
The accused return to the Musina Magistrate’s Court on September 30, when the State is expected to hand in the official charge sheet.
Still, Ward said that Groenewald was “very co-operative” in their discussion. “I don’t think that he would poach his own rhino… He also said he was not averse to selling the group (to the activists).”
Meanwhile, wildlife activists are relieved that the rhino are still with them, even if just for one more day.
“They’re peaceful animals,” said Louise Joubert, founding trustee of the SanWild Wildlife Sanctuary.
“They’re highly intelligent, very lovely creatures. Don’t be fooled by their appearance.”
Selomie Maritz, of eblockwatch, said several “potential buyers” had contacted them yesterday, but they had no confirmed commitments to buy the herd. “They’re not exactly what most people consider a commodity,” she said. – The Star