“The justice system in our country does not take rhino poaching seriously.”
This was the view of a group of animal rights activists on Wednesday who were outraged because the charges against five of eight men accused of contravening the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act were withdrawn.
The activists arrived in full force at the Pretoria North Regional Court along with AfriForum’s head of environmental affairs, Julius Kleynhans, for the case against Dr Douw Grobler, Dr Buti Chibase, Dr Johannes Kruger, Matthys Scheepers, Riaal Booysen, Johan Heydenrych, Christoffel Naudé and Hugo Ras.
It is alleged that the accused, who include vets, professional hunters and game experts, assisted or contributed to the poaching of rhinos by supplying a poaching syndicate with schedule 6 drugs. The drugs were allegedly used to dart the animals so that their horns could be removed.
On their arrival they were told the accused had appeared in court on Tuesday and the charges against Chibase, Kruger, Scheepers, Booysen and Naudé had been withdrawn because of insufficient evidence.
Grobler, Ras and Kruger, who still face the charges, were arrested between August and November last year. It is alleged that an unlicensed rifle and a large supply of tranquillisers, were found in Ras’s home soon after his arrest.
Kleynhans said they were very disappointed that the clerk of the court had given them the incorrect date for the appearance.
“We planned the protest to raise awareness of the critical situation surrounding rhino poaching in the country,” he said.
Kleynhans explained that the community had approached a civil rights organisation to take action against rhino poaching as a total of 443 rhinos were poached in 2011 and 150 rhinos had been poached since the beginning of the year.
“These figures are extremely worrying. We have calculated that if poaching continues at this rate, the rhino will be extinct in 2 268 days from today. I think we can say that South Africa’s last rhino has already been born,” he said.
Belinda van der Merwe of Save our Rhino said she knew Ras and Grobler personally.
“My family and I have been going to the Kruger National Park for the past 28 years and I have always looked up to Grobler. I always thought he was such a lucky man to work so close to nature and the animals.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard he had been arrested for this,” she said.
Van der Merwe said she was “bitterly” disappointed that the charges against five of the accused had been withdrawn.
“The justice system in our country is very poor when it comes to prosecuting rhino poachers. I don’t understand why. Do they not see how serious this problem is?
“Police are working around the clock to arrest the culprits just so that the courts can let them go again,” she said.
Kleynhans said: “AfriForum will do everything possible to oppose rhino poaching and the trade in rhino horns in our country.”
The case has been postponed to June 13.