‘It is hard to imagine a penalty too harsh for those found guilty of instigating and promoting this vile crime’

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As news broke of the U.S. government’s indictment of Dawie and Janneman Groenewald, two South African brothers charged with allegedly operating a rhino horn trafficking syndicate, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) CEO and member of the President’s Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, Dr. Patrick Bergin, released this statement:

"Trafficking in rhino horn is an egregious offense on multiple levels. It drives the theft of private and state property and robs nations of their national heritage and us of our global heritage. It kills valiant rangers and game scouts, leaving families without spouses and parents. It constitutes international organized crime, as demonstrated by this indictment by the U.S. government of two South African citizens. This crime represents complete disdain for the common good and rule of law, and causes untold suffering and cruelty to the rhinos themselves."

The Groenewald brothers and their private safari hunting company, Out of Africa, were indicted on multiple charges, including rhino horn trafficking and money laundering. The accused allegedly sold illegal rhinoceros hunts in Africa to American hunters at hunting conventions and gun shows. After the hunts, they reportedly cut off the rhino horns, selling them on the black market in Asia, in direct contravention of national and international trade laws prohibiting the commercial trade in rhino horn.

This is not the brothers’ first brush with the law involving wildlife trafficking. In 2010, Dawie Groenewald pleaded guilty in Montgomery, Ala., to a felony charge involving a leopard that was illegally hunted in South Africa. He was fined US$30,000. The same year, Dawie, his wife and several others were arrested by South African police on charges of illegal hunting, rhino horn trafficking, racketeering and money laundering. They are awaiting trial, tentatively set for August 2015. The U.S. government is expected to seek extradition for the brothers.

“The days when these criminals could operate within their countries and across international borders with impunity are gone. We are heartened to see the long arm of the law reach out in many countries and arrest and prosecute these criminals within the fullest extent of the laws available,” Bergin said.

In Kenya, a local magistrate who received wildlife crime and law sensitization training through a workshop conducted by AWF recently handed down the maximum fine—Ksh 20 million—to a convicted poacher.