SOME rhino owners are allegedly ordering the dehorning and, in certain cases, the killing of their own rhinos, selling the horns illegally, then pretending to be the victims of poachers or concealing the incidents.
Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela confirmed they were aware of allegations of rhino owners attacking their own animals – this after at least three sources linked to the underworld told the Cape Times these crimes were occurring around the country.
“We are not prepared to talk about these since they are at their very early stages,” Polela said.
He declined to confirm whether the Hawks were officially investigating cases.
The three sources linked to the underworld, who declined to be named as they feared for their safety if they were to be identified, independently told the Cape Times they knew of game farm and reserve owners who had targeted their own rhinos, then pretended to be victims of crime.
The sources said others were concealing what they had done entirely.
One of the sources gave the Cape Times the names of at least five owners he alleged were involved in the rhino horn trade.
Two of the five owners on the list, Dawie Groenewald of Limpopo, who is at the centre of what police have labelled one of South Africa’s biggest rhino cases, and Hugo Ras, a hunter and former owner of Ras Safaris, from Pretoria, are facing various charges in court.
The names of four veterinarians were also provided and the source said they illegally supplied the super morphine drug M99 – a schedule 6 drug used to immobilise large animals, and which only registered veterinarians were allowed to buy.
The source said rhino owners – either desperate to make money, or who realised selling the horns could be more lucrative than having to keep and maintain their rhinos – were involved in the black market trade.
He said 1kg of rhino horn could fetch up to R1 million on the black market.
“The horns aren’t just smuggled.
“They’re sometimes ground into a powder and hidden in things like teddy bears,” the source said.
He said syndicates smuggled the horns mainly to China and Vietnam, where it was believed they cured ailments including cancer, and acted as an aphrodisiac.
The South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association’s deputy president, Gerhard Verdoorn, said he had heard of game farmers orchestrating the dehorning of their own rhinos to then sell the horns illegally.
“But it’s very difficult to prove these things.
“Law enforcement agencies are not necessarily geared for this, these guys are cunning,” he said.
Verdoorn said about a month ago he had heard of a suspicious case in KwaZulu-Natal where a game farm owner did not want police to investigate the dehorning of one of his rhinos and had warned his staff members not to talk about the incident.
Environmental Affairs Department statistics released on Tuesday showed 281 rhinos had been poached in South Africa this year and 176 arrests made.
In a press statement two months ago, national police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo said the number of rhino-related cases showed the extent of the poaching problem.
He referred to the Groenewald rhino case in the statement, saying it was “one of the biggest wildlife cases in South Africa”.
This week, Polela of the Hawks said Groenewald was one of about a dozen people arrested in the case and facing dozens of charges.
“The allegations are that he killed rhinos to illegally harvest their horns.
“Our case details a situation where the animals were killed and carcasses sold to a butcher.
“When the butcher could not cope with the supply, Groenewald allegedly buried carcasses on his farm,” he said.