Multi-disciplinary operation by the South African Police Service leads to the arrest of suspected rhino horn traffickers

The South African Police Service (SAPS) has informed of the arrest on 21 July of two suspected rhino horn traffickers during the course of a multi-disciplinary operation conducted in Mbombela, South Africa, to tackle wildlife trafficking.

According to the SAPS media statement, suspects appeared on 22 July at the Nelspruit Magistrates’ Court after they were arrested whilst transporting 19 rhino horns, which have an estimated market value of ZAR 2.6 million (approx. USD 177,544). Suspects identified as Schalk Abraham Steyn (48) and game farmer Dawie Groenewald (52) have been charged for illegal possession and selling of rhino horns. They will go again to court on Friday 23 July for a formal bail application.

Groenewald is facing hundreds of counts in a South Africa indictment for trading in rhino horn, illegally killing and dehorning rhinos, racketeering, money laundering and related crimes. He was arrested by INTERPOL in 2017 when the agency executed a 2014 international warrant of arrest issued by the US, where Groenewald and his brother are wanted for deceiving American hunting clients into illegally killing rhinos in the brothers’ ranch in Musina, South Africa. Trial dates in South Africa for these charges have been postponed since 2010.

Persistent poaching to meet the demand for horns and habitat loss have contributed to sharp declines of rhino populations. According to estimates, there are just 27,000 rhinos left in the wild from estimated 500,000 individuals at the start of the 20th century. All species of rhinoceros range from nearly threatened to critically endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In South Africa, home to the world’s largest rhino population, soaring poaching figures led to a decrease in rhino numbers during the last decade. Stepped up conservation and anti-poaching efforts in recent years have resulted in a decrease of poaching incidents. Yet, rhino populations have not had enough time to recover and now face the consequences of years of intense poaching that still continues, which puts the species in a very complicated situation.

The Wildlife Justice Commission congratulates the SAPS on their recent successful operation. Joint, multi-disciplinary intelligence-led operations that acknowledge the extent of transnational wildlife crime are an effective strategy to address serious and organised crime and protect endangered species that, as rhinos, are put under enormous pressure by criminal networks profiting for their trade.