Rhino hunting scandal
KRISTEN VAN SCHIE
He is accused of being the kingpin in a rhino-poaching syndicate, but hunting firm owner Dawie Groenewald has continued transporting, buying and hunting rhinos since his arrest – despite facing hundreds of charges.
And it’s the Limpopo Department of Environment that has issued, since the beginning of the year, a dozen permits that allow him to hunt white rhino.
This morning, he was expected to add nine white rhino to his collection – for R2 million.
Wildlife activists are outraged, and are trying to raise R2m to keep them. But Groenewald says he “doesn’t understand what the big issue is”.
Instead, the man who is thought to be the ringleader of 11 suspects arrested in September last year for rhino poaching, says he loves his rhinos.
Since his arrest, Groenewald had been issued with permits to hunt 12 white rhino, two serval, one leopard, three civet cats and one wildcat. He also received permits to transport 17 white rhino.
The permits came to light when the DA Limpopo leader, Desiree van der Walt, posed questions to the province’s environment MEC, Pitsi Moloto. Moloto confirmed that Groenewald was prohibited by the magistrate from engaging in any activity related to the rhinos on his farm.
“However, after the period that was set by the magistrate expired, he was allowed to conduct his business as usual,” Moloto said.
For Groenewald, “business as usual” is Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris.
An official in the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism said they could not refuse Groenewald permits as he had not been found guilty.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty by the courts of law,” said the official, who did not want to be named.
“Just because I saw him arrested on TV doesn’t mean I can refuse him a permit. I don’t even have a piece of paper from my superiors saying that I shouldn’t give him a permit.”
Rynette Coetzee, project executant for the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s law and policy programme, raised the permit issue with the national department.
“Legislation doesn’t work on ethics – it works on facts,” she said.
But departments can refuse to issue permits if they have a legitimate reason, explained Coetzee, who previously worked for Gauteng Nature Conservation.
“Officials have a mandate to protect biodiversity according to the Constitution and the National Environment Management Act,” she said.
“According to that mandate, you have the right to refuse permits if you have reason – such as the applicant being investigated for illegal hunting.”
Groenewald also has a contract to buy nine white rhino, and he was expected to fetch them today.
The animals have been in a “place of safety” for three months after three of their herd – including a calf – were killed by poachers. Another four were stolen.
Activists were desperately trying to raise the R2m to keep them, but Groenewald said: “I don’t know what the big issue is.
“This is not the first rhino I’m buying. I love my rhino.”
He said the six cows would be relocated to the North West farm of prominent owner John Hume for breeding. The three bulls will head to Groenewald’s own farm, Prachtig.
Groenewald lambasted the wildlife activists and questioned their motives. “They’ve had the rhino for three months. If they really cared, why are they only trying to raise money now?”
But Private Rhino Owners Association head Pelham Jones said it was “deeply repugnant” that a person under investigation could continue to trade freely.
“We cannot simply stand back and allow for illegal or legal hunting of rhino, under the guise of trophy hunting,” he said.
“It is nothing short of the brutal slaughter of these iconic animals, and it undermines rhino conservation efforts and the reputation of the country.”
The 11 suspected poachers arrested last year face hundreds of charges, including fraud, corruption, assault, defeating the ends of justice and contravening the Organised Crime Act. Groenewald was released on R1m bail that was reduced to R100 000.
The accused had to hand in IDs and passports, and were told not to interfere with or trade in the rhinos on Groenewald’s farm.