This was after the Musina Magistrate’s Court case against 11 people accused of involvement in the crime was postponed for a fourth time.
South Africa has lost 181 rhinos to poachers this year, and if the rate of poaching does not diminish, it could lose more than 600. The country is home to more than 80% of the world’s remaining rhinos.
The 11 suspects, including veterinary surgeons Karel Toet and Manie du Plessis, and alleged kingpin Dawie Groenewald, owner of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris, face 1872 charges set out in a 637-page indictment.
Their case was postponed to October 12 to give their defence team more time to finalise an application for further particulars on the charges, the WWF South Africa said in a statement.
“A high level of criminal sophistication was required to orchestrate the killing of these rhinos, but this case demonstrates that no one is above the law,” said Mr Okori, head of the WWF’s African rhino programme. “The world is watching and waiting for justice to be served.”
It is alleged the carcasses of 20 rhinos were found buried on Mr Groenewald’s property in late 2010. The rhinos were missing their horns, which are estimated to fetch up to $60000 per kilogram. Trade is illegal.
From an average of 15 animals a year poached in the years before 2008, poaching has increased to 448 rhinos last year and could hit 600 this year, say experts. If this goes on, the species could go into decline from 2016 and become extinct in the wild by 2050, according to Markus Hofmeyr, wildlife veterinary services head at South African National Parks.
The charges against the so-called “Groenewald Gang” include racketeering, illegal rhino hunting, permit violations, illegal trade in rhino horn, money laundering and violating the Biodiversity Act and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
Charges against Limpopo businessman Leon van der Merwe and farm hand Josef Maluleke were dropped.
“The WWF is as impatient as the majority of the public about the delays in the process, but we respect that justice has to follow its course,” said Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF SA.
The WWF works with the South African government and the National Prosecuting Authority to improve the forensic investigation of rhino poaching crime scenes and to boost the knowledge and skills of the people who prosecute rhino crimes.
“We will continue to watch this case closely,” said Mr du Plessis.
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