The owners of a South African safari company have been indicted for tricking American hunters into illegal rhino hunts and secretly trafficking the horns on black markets, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.
Dawie Groenewald and his brother Janneman, both South African nationals, owned the Out of Africa Adventures safari company, which planned hunting safaris in South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The indictment holds that between 2005 and 2010, the two traveled to hunting conventions and trade shows throughout the U.S. selling hunts and guiding services to American hunters. Because the white rhinoceros is considered a threatened species, aspiring rhinocides must obtain permits from the South African government, which neither the Groenewald brothers nor their employees had.
The indictment alleges that they deceived at least nine Americans into illegally hunting the threatened animals by convincing them that because particular rhinos were “problems”–aggressive, dangerous or “mean”– they needed killing. They would often only bring up the possibility of killing rhinoceroses once the hunters were on their ranch in Mussina, South Africa. They recruited hunters by attending National Rifle Association and Safari Club International conventions in states throughout the U.S., in one instance donating a safari to the SCI for auction. None of the American hunters have been charged.
During this period, Janneman Groenewald lived in Alabama, “where Out of Africa maintained bank accounts and is accused of money laundering and structuring deposits to avoid federal reporting requirements,” according to the DOJ. The brothers charged between $3,500 and $15,000 for the hunts.
“These defendants tricked, lied and defrauded American citizens in order to profit from these illegal rhinoceros hunts,” stated U.S. Attorney George Beck. “Not only did they break South African laws, but they laundered their ill-gotten gains through our banks here in Alabama. We will not allow United States’ citizens to be used as a tool to destroy a species that is virtually harmless to people or other animals.”
National Geographic reports that Janneman’s older brother Dawie is the head of a “rhino poaching and trafficking syndicate” known as “the Groenewald Gang” or “Musina Mafia.” He was arrested in South Africa in 2010, and though his trial has been postponed several times, he faces 1,736 counts related to illegally selling hundreds of rhino horns, some of them cut off the animals while still alive.
The U.S. indictment explains that while the American hunters were allowed to pose for photographs with their kills, Out of Africa employees told them that they could not bring home “trophies,” allowing the Groenewalds and their underlings to saw off the horns and sell them on the black market later.
“We are literally fighting for the survival of a species today,” said acting Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Sam Hirsch. “In that fight, we will do all we can to prosecute those who traffic in rhino horns and sell rhino hunts to Americans in violation of foreign law. This case should send a warning shot to outfitters and hunters that the sale of illegal hunts in the U.S. will be vigorously prosecuted regardless of where the hunt takes place.”
“Eleven illegal hunts are detailed in the papers filed in federal court,” the DOJ statement explains. “Including one in which the rhino had to be shot and killed after being repeatedly wounded by a bow, and another in which Dawie Groenewald used a chainsaw to remove the horn from a sedated rhino that had been hunted with a tranquilizer gun.”
Rhinoceros horns fetch more than their weight in gold on black markets.
According to their company’s website, Out of Africa safaris included room and board, “in African-style huts or high-quality tents,” where “tasks such as cooking and laundry will be performed by our employees.” Hunters could rest assured that “meals are ample, varied and adapted to your personal requirements and taste and will be served with the best of South African wines.” While they do not list rhino hunt prices on their site, they do include photos of hunters with dead rhinos in their gallery.
Other animal hunts they offer include giraffes, zebras, baboons, jackals, wildcats and dozens more.
“The fact that defendants used American hunters to execute this scheme is appalling,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, “but not as appalling as the brutal tactics they employed to kill eleven critically endangered wild rhinos. South Africa has worked extraordinarily hard to protect its wild rhino population, using trophy hunts as a key management tool. The illegal ‘hunts’ perpetrated by these criminals undermine that work and the reputation of responsible hunters everywhere.”
The 18-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, illegal wildlife tracking, mail fraud and international money laundering.