‘We want justice for the rhinos’

2012-06-13 16:33
Several animal rights activists crammed into the Pretoria North Regional Court where two veterinarians and a professional hunter have appeared.

The accused are among eight people arrested last year on charges relating to the possession and distribution of a tranquillising drug commonly used by rhino poachers.

Charges against five of the suspects were withdrawn in April, reportedly because of insufficient evidence.

The three accused include Dr Douw Grobler, an animal conservation expert and formerly head of wildlife capturing and veterinary services at the Kruger National Park.

He was charged together with private vet Dr Johannes Gerhardus Kruger, and professional hunter and animal farmer Hugo Ras.

It is alleged that the group contributed to rhino poaching by supplying a poaching syndicate with tranquillisers.

The M99 drug, also called etorphine, was allegedly used to dart rhinos to enable the removal of their horns.

The matter was postponed to June 19.

Activists said they would closely follow the case until its conclusion.

Pretoria-based animal rights group Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching said government had to urgently improve awareness of poaching.

“Much of the awareness has now been left up to the non-profit organisations at the moment. We expect government to hold constant, massive awareness campaigns to communicate the problem,” said citizens against poaching director Allison Thomson.

“They need to speak to all their counterparts benefiting from rhino poaching. We want government to talk to its partners, like China and others.”

Demand for rhino horns in Asian countries, particularly Vietnam, has often been blamed as the root cause for the poaching frenzy in South Africa and other African countries.

Initially, Grobler, Kruger, and Ras were charged together with Dr Buti Chibase, a state vet from Klerksdorp.

In March, they appeared in the Pretoria North Magistrates Court with four others – Matthys Christoffel Scheepers, Riaal Booysen, Johan Carl Heydenrych, and Christoffel Francois Naudé.

It is alleged Ras was arrested after five crates of the scheduled veterinary medicines were confiscated during a police raid on his home.

In February, Boksburg vet Dr Johan Hendrik Meyer was found guilty of unprofessional conduct after he dispensed 26 bottles of M99.

Meyer was fined R25?000 by the South African Veterinary Council.

He was also given a six-month suspension, which was set aside for 10 years on condition that he did not commit a similar crime again.