Fears poaching accused will flee
Johannesburg - The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has expressed concern that 11 people, alleged to be members of a rhino poaching ring, may flee the country, after they were granted bail in the Musina Magistrate's Court on Wednesday.
The case was postponed until April 11 next year.
Despite strict bail conditions, Joseph Okori, head of the WWF's African Rhino Programme, believes they have the resources to skip bail, given the time until their next court appearance.
"It is an extremely long time lag, and we know from past experience, in countries like Zimbabwe, that poachers have been known to skip bail," Okori said.
"This not a small group," he said.
"If you have professionals involved who can transport rhino horn outside of the country in only a few days, you're talking about access to helicopters, high-powered rifles, and government-regulated veterinary narcotics."
Bail conditions for the 11 include having to hand in their passports and identity documents.
They also have to give the police a week's notice if they want to leave the province.R1m for freedom
Game farmer Dawie Groenewald was released on R1m and his wife Sariette on R100 000 bail.
Other bail conditions are that the Groenewalds are not allowed to sell their farm or house in Polokwane without informing the police's investigative team.
They have been told to refrain from tampering with 32 rhinos currently on their game farm, Pragtig.
Veterinarian Karel Toet was released on R50 000 bail, his wife Mariza on R20 000, and his colleague, veterinarian Manie du Plessis, also on R20 000.
The Toets' house in Modimolle may also not be sold without informing the police.
The other accused, professional hunter Tielman Roos Erasmus, Dewald Gouws, Nardus Rossouw, Leon van der Merwe, and Jacobus Martinus Pronk were released on R20 000 bail each, and Paul Matomela on R5 000.
According to Beeld's Marietie Louw, the families of the accused had already written cheques to the value of thousands of rand for bail on Wednesday, before the accused had even appeared in court.
A cheque of R20 000 was seen being handed to one of the accused's attorney.
Family members said the two women are extremely traumatised after being detained in police cells for two days, according to the newspaper.
Before court proceedings on Wednesday, the accused were held in a corrugated iron building at the Musina police station in unbearable heat.
The building is used to detain accused while construction work on the court has been dragging along for about three years.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) urged prosecutors to seek the maximum sentences for the 11 when the case goes to trial.
"There needs to be a strong signal that killing our rhinos will be met with severe consequences," said Gareth Morgan, shadow environment minister.
"The demand from the Far East for rhino horn is insatiable and thus this country needs to send a strong signal that there will be major consequences for poachers and the syndicates that control the trade of horns."
Rhino poaching has spiked dramatically since 2008, with 210 slaughtered so far this year, almost double the number slain in 2009, according to the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
Black-market demand for rhino horn continues to soar, particularly in China and Vietnam, due largely to the economic boom in Asia.
Poachers sell the horns for medicinal and ornamental use at huge profits.
South Africa and neighbouring Zimbabwe are responsible for 95% of the poaching, according to wildlife monitoring group Traffic.