Rhino ‘masterminds’

2010-09-22 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — The owner of a safari business, his wife and a professional hunter are among the “masterminds” arrested this week in connection with rhino poaching.

Dawie Groenewald (42), the wealthy driving force behind Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris in Polokwane, his wife Sariette (34), and Tielman Erasmus, a professional hunter, are behind bars.

They were arrested on Monday along with Dr Karel Toet and Dr Manie du Plessis, two veterinarians from Modimolle (Nylstroom), and Toet’s wife, Marisa.

Groenewald, a former policeman, was suspended from the South African Professional Hunters’ Association, and Zimbabwean authorities put a stop to his hunting there.

He was arrested in the U.S. in April this year in connection with a leopard trophy that was illegally hunted in South Africa and exported to the U.S. He pleaded guilty and was fined $30 000 (R228 000).

He spent eight days in prison there, over two months under house arrest and also had to pay $7 500 (R54 770) in damages to the American hunter.

During an interview with Media24’s investigative team, he denied earlier allegations that he was involved in rhino poaching and that he has been forbidden from entering Zimbabwe.

According to the South African aircraft register, Groenewald is linked to a closed corporation that owns a Robinson R44 helicopter with the registration ZS-HBH.

His wife, Sariette, is listed as a director of Valinor Trading 142 — the owner of the helicopter.

It is known that helicopters are often used during rhino poaching operations.

Groenewald’s Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris is rather notorious in hunting circles.

They advertise hunting safaris in Botswana, Tanzania, South Africa and even Zimbabwe, despite the fact that the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority forbade them from entering the country in September 2004.

David Coltart, a Zimbabwe cabinet minister and well-known figure in conservation circles, earlier described Out of Africa to Newsweek as a “cruel organisation which has no respect for the environment” and strives for “unreachable hunting quotas”.

Hunting experts in Zimbabwe allege that Out of Africa has strong links with politicians close to President Robert Mugabe.

During the height of political instability in Zimbabwe, the organisation apparently organised hunting safaris on farms and land invaded by Zanu-PF’s “war veterans”.

Meanwhile, about 100 vehicles from the police and the Department of Nature Conservation yesterday raided game farms in the Musina area. A police helicopter and aircraft were also used.

Several people were questioned.

As yet, however, there have been no further arrests.

National police spokesperson Colonel Vishnu Naidoo said on Monday the nine suspects are allegedly involved in killing rhinos, sawing off their horns and removing the carcasses.

These nine suspects will appear in court in Musina today, the day declared International Rhino Day by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The South African Veterinary Association (Sava) expressed its shock over the arrest of Toet and Du Plessis. It distanced itself from any “colleagues” who might be involved in rhino poaching.

The vets own the Nylstroom animal clinic, as well as Limpopo Wildlife, which is involved with catching and transporting game on farms.

Monday’s arrests came after five rhinos were killed for their horns in a nature reserve in the North West at the weekend. Altogether 210 rhinos have been poached across the country since January.

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